Have you thought about how to market your business with excellence in a fallen world?
Marketing that capitalizes on the weaknesses, bad habits, and sinful patterns of people seems to work, but is it good?
I had a chat with a friend at church about unethical marketing practices. The conversation led us to conclude that businesses shouldn’t have to use misleading tricks (including images and words that trigger negative reactions) to get people to buy their service or product. Now, I’m not naive to believe that this type of marketing is going to stop anytime soon. Nor do I believe that it’s a business’s responsibility to know every person’s individual weak spots. I also don’t think that it’s fair for a business to be culpable for an individual’s choices in every situation.
My conversation with my friend 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.
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 and standards and address how unethical marketing breaks these biblical commands. I will not name any brands or products that conduct sinful or unethical marketing practices as to not give them any additional promotion. Lastly, I will address how one can do marketing with excellence in a godly way.
Table of Contents
Profit and Guilt
Let’s start with the topics of money and profit. These two topics trip up a good number of 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 financial status.
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. But if profit indeed comes, it would be wise to give God the glory are give a portion of the increase to support the church and other positive causes.
Tricky Marketing “Works”
“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
Marketing has made idols out of cars, people, politics, food, and myriad other products, services and passions for centuries. Making an idol out of anything for whatever reason is an attempt to put God in a secondary position. This goes against how God would like for us to live (Exodus 20:3).
And let’s face it, clever marketing works. It’s about whether the marketing is being used for good, neutral, or bad. According to a study by smallbizgenius, as soon as chewing gum ads started showing people chewing two pieces of gum at once, chewing gum sales doubled. People were influenced by what they had seen on TV. I don’t see anything wrong with this. It just shows the power of advertising.
Unethical marketing can come in many forms — 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 images and messages that it often goes unmentioned (but definitely not unnoticed). There are billboards that promote sex and alcohol in every big city across the United States. Sadly, children are being exposed to this type of marketing and advertising all the time — especially during sports broadcasts.
Certain prescription drugs withstanding, if you need an auctioneer to rattle off a barrage of risks 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 a magnifying glass to read the fine print at the end of your TV ad, there’s a strong chance that your advertisement is based on partial truths or sensationalism. While sometimes comical, these flash disclaimers can be quite dangerous for the consumer. And to be clear, I’m not referring to instances when disclaimers and disclosures are necessary or required by law.
Tricky marketing “works” in this world because it appeals to the carnal desires or bad habits of its viewers. And many people support the brand after being shown these advertisements repeatedly. Why? Because some 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. In some cases, the people and businesses behind unethical marketing are more concerned with monetary results than the well-being of the consumer.
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 style of marketing. 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.
What Are the Consequences of Tricky Marketing?
Those who vouch for tricky marketing because of its business effectiveness in this fallen world are victims of shortsighted pragmatism. There are eternal implications at hand for both the marketer and the consumer (if their response to the marketing leads them to a pattern of sin).
Are you able to properly divide good from evil and not call good evil and evil good? This is the question that every marketer and consumer should ask.
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 tricky 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 issue is that tricky marketing sells you on more than the product or service itself. It sells you on a permanent feeling or emotion that the brand wants you to associate with their product or service…but that promised feeling or emotion is either never experienced or it goes away not long after purchase and consumption. Ethical marketing (and the product or service being promoted) aims to deliver on all of its direct and perceived promises.
My hope: you realize that Jesus Christ is the only Person who can fill the needs and desires of one’s soul.
Keeping the Promises That Marketing Promotes
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 that 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 timeframe, deliverables and payment. These are covenants/agreements/promises 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 marketing we see and hear today in this fallen world delivers on its promises?
Marketers exist to seek, attract, inform, compel, convince, and convert potential customers. 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 promoting…but that’s not the case too many times. Businesses should 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. At the same time, marketers should be responsibly present products and services in an accurate way.
We’ve all seen television commercials for restaurants in which the food is presented visually as a gourmet masterpiece. Unfortunately, I’m sure you have experienced the underwhelming appearance and taste of the food from those same establishments. Why does this happen? It’s because the world teaches marketers to put lipstick on a pig. But God teaches to be honest and excellent, leaving the results to Him. Speaking of excellence in how to market your business…
Tips for Marketing Your Business in a Fallen World
This article is not meant to give marketers an excuse for doing lazy or uninspiring marketing. Many of the people behind tricky marketing campaigns work their behinds off. It’s just that their energy is being put into negative or misleading things, but the effort is there nonetheless!
All marketers, especially those with good and honest intentions, should try their best to promote excellent products and services. I strive to be among the most skilled, informed, God-honoring marketers in the world and you should have the same goals for your work.
Here’s how I propose you should market your business 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 the campaign too (1 Thessalonians 5:17)!
- Market with love for your customers (Mark 12:33). How would you like to be marketed to?
- Consider the moral implications of the product, service, and industry. For example, there’s no righteous way or reason to market pornography.
- Deliver an excellent call-to-action that’s connected to a product or service that delivers on the promise.
- Watch your inputs. Avoid consuming negative content that could give you bad ideas for your marketing. Influence the world, don’t let a fallen world influence you.
- Use your sense of humor. God created us to laugh for a reason.
- Sacrificing quality is not the way to go. Be patient and put your best foot forward.
- Take bold and creative risks (Psalm 56:11).
By using these and other wise marketing tips, your business will do excellent marketing that builds trust with your customers.
There’s Good News
If you make Jesus Christ the center of all you do, you can do branding and marketing in a way that honors God. Original and honest marketing that’s done well connects more deeply with people. So why do it any other way?
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” – Colossians 3:23