“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” – Colossians 3:23
Marketing and sales came up during a conversation after church recently. The conversation with my brother Larry surrounded around the sentiment that businesses shouldn’t have to use spin or misleading tricks to get people to buy their service or product. That conversation got me thinking about our world and why a lot (not all) marketing is the way it is — over sexual, over the top and misleading (and let’s not talk about the weak attempts of ethnic diversity for reaching “alternative” audiences). That conversation with Larry inspired this article. I’m taking a deep look at marketing in a fallen world — the good and the bad. I will look at some key biblical commands for Christian living and address how sinful and unethical marketing breaks these biblical commands. I will not name any brands or products that conduct sinful and unethical marketing in this article as to not give them any additional promotion. Lastly, I will address how we can approach marketing with Christlikeness.
Profit and Christian Guilt
Let’s start with the topics of money and profits. These two topics trip up many Christians (and non-Christians). Wayne Grudem, in his book Business for the Glory of God (affiliate link), makes the point that profit and business ownership are not inherently evil but they are often misused by evil or misguided people. This “all profit is evil” paradigm causes some Christians to feel guilty about marketing and growing a business. Look, every rich person is not evil nor is every poor person righteous. Evil and righteousness are not tied to a particular financial status.
Christians know that God expects His children to do everything with excellence. Everything! So in my opinion, if you develop a product or service with excellence and market and sell it with excellence, then you should feel no guilt about turning a profit if the Lord wills it. Just know that monetary profit might not be God’s key performance metric or gift to you for your work. You can’t put a monetary value on lives positively impacted. Lastly, if profits indeed come, Christians are called to give wisely from their profits!
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Sinful and Unethical Marketing
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” – Isaiah 5:20
Sinful and unethical marketing has made idols out of cars, celebrity, politics, food, and a myriad of other products, services and passions for centuries. A Christian marketer knows this is a no-no (Exodus 20:3). Unethical marketing is over-sexualized, off-topic, misleading, and over-the-top. This might shock some of you but scarfing down that hamburger won’t land you a date with a supermodel. The problem is that our society is so numb to these type of messages and images that it often goes unmentioned. And children are being exposed to it all (especially during sports broadcasts).
Certain prescription drugs withstanding, if you need an auctioneer to rattle off a barrage of side effects and disclaimers at the end of a commercial then the images and content in/of said commercial are likely misleading. If you need a DVR and/or a magnifying glass to read the fine print at the end of your advertisement, there’s a strong chance that your advertisement is based on partial truths. While sometimes comical, these flash disclaimers can be quite dangerous for the consumer. To be clear, I’m not referring to instances when disclaimers and disclosures are required by law.
Sinful and unethical marketing “works” in this world because it appeals to the carnal desires of its viewers. And many people convert to and for the brand after these advertisements. Why? Because unethical marketing takes a shallow approach to get people to make quick decisions in the brand’s favor. Sure the advertising might be supported by research and data for effectiveness, but that doesn’t make it right. Research or not, we’re seeing carnal minds branding to carnal minds. The people and businesses behind unethical marketing are more concerned with results than the well-being of the customer. And it’s even more unfortunate if these marketers think they are doing something good for the customer.
We wouldn’t see sinful and unethical ads if they didn’t “work” and if big media budgets weren’t fueling a high volume of this brand of marketing being pumped into our households. Even if you’re a Netflix user and you effectively avoid advertisements on the screen, you can’ t go to a mall without seeing scantily clad models all over the walls and storefronts (pro tip: order from Amazon). Thankfully, Christian consumers should know how to guard their senses, protect their children from sinful and unethical marketing and respond responsibly after being presented with it. And Christian marketers should know how to keep marketing creative and classy.
Unfortunately, sinful and unethical marketing seems to be effective. Those who vouch for it because of its effectiveness in a fallen world are victims of pragmatism. Just because it “works” that doesn’t mean that it’s good. There are eternal implications at hand for both the marketer and the consumer (if they don’t respond responsibly). What’s godly is what’s truly good. As Christians, we are called to properly divide good from evil and not call good evil and evil good like the world does.
Unethical marketing is contributing to the making of zombie consumers who desire the instant satisfaction the product or service sells. We should know that most things that are good for us come slowly over time and don’t require misleading marketing to convince us. The producers of unethical marketing become slaves to their results through dishonest means and the consumers become slaves to a service or product that never fully delivers on its promise.
But you might say, “Well Chris, I don’t have any problem with [insert food brand]’s commercials. Their food isn’t the best but it fills my stomach.”
The problem is that unethical marketing sells you on more than the food. It sells you on a permanent feeling or emotion that the brand wants you to associate with their service or product, but that promised feeling or emotion is either never achieved or it goes away not long after the purchase and consumption. Ethical marketing (and the product or service being promoted) aims to deliver on all of its direct and perceived promises. But Christians also know that Jesus Christ is the only Person who can fill the righteous needs and desires of our soul according to His will.
Whenever I write an article headline or craft a call-to-action within content, I challenge myself to deliver on my promise. I’m not perfect, but I try my best. For example, an article headline teases the information contained within that article and I make sure the meat of the article delivers on the promise. When I send a marketing service proposal to a prospective client, the proposal presents the value I’m going to provide to the customer and the proposed terms for time, deliverables and payment. These are covenants and all parties are expected to keep them. Things go much better when people do what they say they’re going to do. Do you think all of the the marketing we see and hear in this fallen world delivers on its promises?
Marketers exist to seek, attract, inform and compel potential customers to take action. But once they take action, is the customer satisfied? In a perfect world, marketers would have 100 percent trust in the quality of the product or service they are presenting; but that’s often not the case in this fallen world. Businesses must be concerned with delivering quality products, services and customer support just as much (if not more) as conducting the marketing activities that bring customers to the table. And marketers and entrepreneurs must be responsible in presenting these products and services in an accurate way. We’ve all seen television commercials for restaurants and frozen meals in which the food is presented visually as a 3-star gourmet meal. Unfortunately, many of us have experienced the underwhelming appearance and taste of the food items from these commercials. Why does this happen? It’s because the world teaches marketers to put lipstick on a pig while Christianity teaches to be honest and excellent, leaving the results to the Lord. Speaking of excellence…
Christians and Excellence
This article is not meant to give Christian marketers an excuse for not putting in the hard work that’s necessary to convince a person to buy a service or a product. Many of the people behind sinful and unethical marketing work their behinds off. Their energy is being put into bad things, but the effort is there nonetheless! Christian marketers are called to put in the work too! Therefore again, this article is not a pass for Christians to do lazy or uninspiring marketing and advertising. Christians should be driven to do all work with excellence because we work unto the Lord and not for men (though we serve fellow men). With that said, we should strive to be the most skilled, most informed, hardest working, and most gracious ethical marketers in the world — giving all the glory to God and not pridefully boasting in our efforts.
Here’s how I propose that one markets with Christlikeness despite what seems to “work” in this fallen world:
- Always consider what the Bible says about your content and how you put it out there. You don’t want anyone to stumble because of your content (especially a fellow believer – Matthew 18:6).
- Begin and end every creative marketing endeavor in prayer. Pray during too (1 Thessalonians 5:17)!
- Market with love for the end user (Mark 12:33). Imagine your content being presented to a loved one.
- Consider the moral implications of the product, service or industry. For example, there’s no righteous way or reason to market pornography.
- Have a strong call-to-action that’s connected to a product or service that actually delivers on the promise.
- Watch your inputs. It’s easier than most think to be inspired by what you see and/or hear. Avoid consuming sinful and unethical programming, music and marketing. Your marketing should be righteous and original. Make it your goal to influence the world and not have the world influence you!
- Use your sense of humor. The Lord created us to laugh for a reason.
- Sacrificing quality (excellence) is not biblical! If you have to wait to raise more money in order to produce higher quality branding, then wait. Be patient and put your best foot forward!
- Don’t be afraid to be bold and take creative risks for the sake of righteousness and originality (Psalm 56:11).
By using these and other sound measures, your business will conduct righteous marketing that builds authentic trust (and possibly brand loyalty) with your customers.
There’s Good News
If we make Jesus Christ the center of all we do, we can market useful products and services in a righteous way that honors God. Actually, original, honest and transparent marketing connects more deeply with the viewer and is often more compelling than the alternative anyway.
Christians, we have Jesus and a different set of rules that we follow and live by — thanks to the Holy Spirit … so holiness is to be present in every aspect of life. This includes work and business. Our business, work, and branding are parts of our Christian walk and we’re responsible for our actions when conducting them. Stay true to the faith!