Where Do You Draw the Line in Ethical Marketing?

In an ideal world, you write good content and people come flocking to your doorstep. In an ideal world, everybody gets their share. In an ideal world. Well, welcome to the real world.

When the internet first came to the forefront many people claimed that this would indeed level the playing field. Now everyone would have a shot to claim their fair share. Indeed, the internet did lower the barrier of entry. It sure seemed like anybody could win in the new digital economy.

Then what happened? The pioneers claimed the lion share of traffic and leveraged that to buy competitors and upcoming startups. Services became a winner-take-all race where the best of the breed could really dominate their market. Spammers discovered the internet starting with email.

So we all found out that the laws governing the real world actually apply to the internet as well. If anything competition could be even more lopsided. Sure, there is a lower barrier to entry but that means you have a billion other sites ranging from good to bad competing for attention. The search engine gods only smile on the lucky few.

It all comes down to competition. Sure, good content will always get you noticed. Some people are lucky enough to do zero promotion and zero marketing to still find an audience based on content alone but that doesn’t work for everybody.

There are many ways to draw attention from the completely innocuous to ingenious marketing that may be pushing the limits. Usually, it’s the new kids on the block that need a good strategy to sell at least until they can get noticed on their own merits.

Let’s look at some of the traditional ways that you can market yourself without any marketing on the web:

  • Release a very useful program or tool. Preferably open source.
  • Be associated with a hot web service or product
  • Staying active in your branch of industry and networking like crazy
  • Being a thought leader with interesting ideas that people draw inspiration from
  • Release design templates or tutorials

That’s just a small selection of ways. One thing they have in common is that they’re giving something to the general community. What about those of us without such means?

You basically have to be ingenious in marketing yourself. It’s the typical mixture of being creative and bold. “The Million Dollar Homepage” is a brilliant example. Selling a million pixels at a dollar each had such an impact that it made its creator a millionaire overnight.

As long as there is capitalism, there will always be people pushing the limits of what’s acceptable. Especially if there’s ambition involved. We see this everyday.

Clothing lines like Calvin Klein or Abercrombie & Fitch pushed the limits of advertising with nearly naked, unrealistically attractive young models doing a bunch of meaningless yet innuendo-laden poses. These racy campaigns ignited the fury of various parents groups only to notch up the “coolness” of the brand. Sales skyrocket and ads get toned down. Many famous artists kicked off their careers with more edgy work until they gained mass appeal.

So it all comes down to “how far are you willing to go for you to get noticed?”. It really comes down to your threshold of ethical behavior.

Eth·ics
n. (ĕth”ĭks)

[Cf. F. éthique. See Ethic.]
The science of human duty; the body of rules of duty drawn from this science; a particular system of principles and rules concerning duty, whether true or false; rules of practice in respect to a single class of human actions; as, political or social ethics; medical ethics.

ethics: Answers.com

Some marketers go to far in order to draw attention, sometimes pushing the gray zone of legality and other times boldly defying law. It’s clear that the best marketers are creative, have a good understanding of psychology even if it’s instinctive, and are bolder than the average.

When a bold marketer grabs your attention are you shocked and offended or do you just laugh it off? How far are you willing to go in order to get noticed? Are you being crass or creative in your efforts? Are you being shady if you’re deliberately or subconsciously writing content geared toward a certain audience because you know it will be popular?

No matter what path you take creativity and initiative is the only real way to get noticed.