Executive Development Methods

Highly skilled executives are key for organizations to continue delivering better-than-expected results. With these challenging times, executives need to keep looking to develop their competencies and skills to deliver results year-over-year.

“Those in leadership positions seek to understand what skills, competencies and behaviours will support them in carrying out these demanding roles, both for the benefit of their own aspirations and those of the organizations in which they operate.” (Claire Collins, 2012)

Executive development will continue to be one of the upmost priorities in any organization. Growing and developing leadership skills is mostly centred on learning the knowledge and skills required for current and/or future roles for the executive.

Learning and development methods, including guidance on professional development, whether short or long term, varies from self-learning, training, supervision, coaching and mentoring. This article will highlight the different methods of executive development and briefly position them for a better understanding on which method is best to use based on individual development needs.


Self-learning is any deliberate, planned action taken by the person to acquire and apply certain knowledge and/or skill without the assistance of someone else, by intentionally reading, listening, or watching someone perform an action. The effectiveness of this method is based on the ability of the person to choose what to learn, when to learn it, and on how easily the content can be understood and/or applied. The challenges of this method are about having access to relevant content; the amount and quality of time that needs to be allocated to that content; and last, and most important, it requires self-commitment, self-motivation—and a significant degree of self-discipline.


In business training, the trainer is the source of information and knowledge. Trainees receive information from the trainer through lectures and/or skill-based activities. Attendees are usually assessed through written or verbal tests and/or other assessments. This type of development method is effective and has a more positive impact on junior-level positions, where employees are in the primary stages of acquiring basic knowledge related to role and/or field.

Business Supervision

Supervision, most of the time, comes with authority and tends to be more focused on observing the person’s behaviour and their skills. Supervision usually has limited focus on self-learning and is more focused on translating knowledge into practical hands-on experience. It helps the supervised person to put their knowledge into practice.

Business Coaching

Although Business Coaching is generally for a short period of time, it is recognized as a process for developing leaders. The biggest priority for the coach is helping the coachee to be self-aware and to be able to manage themselves to improve performance related to the role. There is an increased focus on specific skills required to excel in the role as well as the skills needed for working and interacting with others, particularly on changing behavioural issues to drive improvement.

With the coaching methodology, it is necessary for the coach to be neutral, listen, and ask questions in order to develop certain skills. The coach might not need to have hands-on experience, depending on the kind of industry the coachee is engaged in, but the right coaches provide leadership knowledge and experience, to provide the coachees with a fresh perspective, and strategy to deliver results.

“Coaching is a helping relationship formed between a client who has managerial authority and responsibility in an organization, and a consultant, to achieve a mutually identified set of goals to improve their professional performance and personal satisfaction, and, consequently, to improve the effectiveness of the client’s organization.” (Kilburg, 2000).

Business Mentoring

Mentoring is a long-term process based on mutual trust and respect. The role of mentors evolves as the needs of their mentees change over time. In addition to what coaches do in being neutral, they listen and ask questions to develop certain skills, affording them, as mentors, to be more interactive and engaging. They develop the mentee’s skills that are not just relevant for the mentees, themselves, in their present roles, but also for their future roles and careers, in general.

Mentoring covers various aspects to guide executives in running a successful business. Mentors play a crucial role, from framing and expanding a mentee’s thinking, to building confidence and skills, to providing fresh insight, to boosting the overall performance of the mentees.

The relationship developed between the mentor and mentee allows mentors to help mentees explore their career options, and provide them support about their career trajectories and growth. Since they have faced the same challenges as their mentees, and they are more empathetic toward their needs, they are always willing to share their experience, skills and knowledge with the mentees, and serve as a professional advisor and role model.


“Increasingly, organizations are turning to individual development techniques to supplement or replace traditional training methods” (Collins, 2012).

It is dangerous and misleading for an executive to claim they know everything, especially if they were newly promoted to an executive role. It is expected they have enough information and knowledge related to the job, but it is still necessary to have support in carrying out and implementing their relevant knowledge in a skilled way, to become a top-performing executive.

For maximum efficiency and benefit, executives need to be clear on what their priorities are and what kind of support they are looking for.

Ethics in Marketing

Written by: Professor Laurie Busuttil, CPM

When Max De Pree was CEO of the Herman Miller furniture company, he posed several questions for discussion at an executive leadership retreat. Two of these were, “What is the purpose of business?” and “Is there a moral imperative to good design?”.[1]  They are good questions for marketers to consider, too.

The Purpose of Marketing

The question about the purpose of marketing could have a variety of answers. Is it to serve our customers and to help them flourish? Is it to advertise products or services—or does it begin with developing those products and services? Do we convince target audiences to buy products that meet wants and needs created by us, or do we develop products our customers truly need? Regardless of how we answer these questions, the marketer’s prime obligation is to act ethically.

Marketing is the exchange of one thing of value for another: products and services for money. Honestly depicting the value proposition, making brand promises that we can keep, and taking a long-term view of customer relationships should facilitate valuable exchanges, which are at the heart of successful marketing.

The Practice of Marketing

De Pree’s second question prompts discussion about a moral imperative in marketing. This is the ethics of marketing practice. Gary Karns suggests that deceptive advertising and persuasive practices result in one-sided gains, and exploitative and unjust relationships.[2] Such practices also result in the loss of trust in marketers and in the brands they promote.

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer report identified two dimensions of trust: ethics and competence. Sadly, none of the four institutions Edelman studied (business, government, media, and non-governmental organizations) were perceived as being both ethical and competent. Business ranked highest in competence, yet it was still seen as being unethical.[3]

Marketers can help change those perceptions. We can change the way organizations and brands are perceived by customers. This will build stronger consumer relationships, develop advocates for the brand, and enhance profitability. Developing trust is foundational to a brand’s—and a marketer’s—success.

Trust is established and strengthened when we listen and tell the truth. This was abundantly clear in 2008 when Michael McCain, CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, released a one-minute and six-second television spot, expressing a heartfelt apology to those who had been sickened, and to the families of those who had lost their lives because of a listeriosis outbreak at one of their meat processing plants. The share price of the company dropped drastically on news of the outbreak, yet four months after McCain’s apology and commitment to improve safety practices, Maple Leaf Foods’ shares were trading above the price at the time of the outbreak. Honesty matters and it has a direct impact on the value created by the firm.

While the practice of marketing is shaped by the ethics of marketers, words are not enough. Customers expect action. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer released a special report on brand trust in which survey respondents indicated they “wanted brands to take action, solve problems, and advocate for change.”[4] Yet, as the survey also discovered, nearly 70% of people avoid advertising, a fundamental avenue of communication for marketers. Consequently, ethical practices must influence other marketing practices.

For example, engaging in sustainable product development and conservation of resources has practical implications for product design and development. Taking a cradle-to-cradle rather than a cradle-to-grave approach means that marketers care for the environment and do not waste resources.  Transparency and consistency in our pricing and distribution practices are additional ways to restore trust in businesses, especially when traditional avenues of communication (advertisements) are being removed.

Putting customers at the centre of our practice means we put ourselves in their shoes. Treating others as we want to be treated should lead us to intentionally structure our marketing activities in ways that do not create “built-in disadvantages to any individual or group of people.”[5]

 The Future of Marketing

As a marketing educator, I am excited about the future. Every day I work with young people who are planning their future as marketers. They recognize the need for honesty, transparency, accountability, trust—and the ethical foundation that will be required to establish successful careers as valued partners at the business table. The moral imperative is being envisioned.

In class, we discuss case studies, real situations around which students can wrap theory, concretize concepts, and apply them to situations with which they may already be familiar or which they will encounter in the future. We discuss ethical issues from the perspective of all stakeholders. For instance, sometimes the discussions centre on our role as consumers and the ethics of consumption, preparing them to think about the customer as they design, develop, and promote products and services. We tackle discussions about developing products that are not “needed” by consumers but drive spikes in sales. On other occasions, we discuss advertisements that push the envelope and cross moral lines. We reimagine promoting such products in clever and creative ways, rather than in crass or offensive ones.

Of one thing I am convinced: the future of marketing will be bright if we take time to model ethical marketing practices and intentionally prepare young marketers to enter the industry



[1] Wolterstorff, N. (2004). Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education. C.W. Joldersma and G. Stronks, (Eds). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.

[2] Karns, G. L. (2008). A Theological Reflection on Exchange and Marketing: An Extension of the Proposition That the Purpose of Business is to Serve. Christian Scholar’s Review, 37(1), 97-114.

[3] 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer. https://www.edelman.com/trust/2020-trust-barometer

[4] Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust. (2020) https://www.edelman.com/news-awards/brand-trust-2020-press-release.

[5] Chewning, R. C., Eby, J. W., and Roels, S. J. (1990). Business Through the Eyes of Faith. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Execution in business

Peter F. Drucker said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things”. Similarly, I would say that planning is doing things right, while execution is doing the right things.

Regardless if there is a good plan or a bad one, without the proper execution, the results will be lacklustre—at best! Hence the popular saying by Jeff Bridge, “Execution is everything”. It is expected that during execution people get diverted. This diversion leads to poor or improper execution, ultimately resulting in less favourable outcomes. Such diversions are most often the result of “pull” or “push” pressures that amplify during the course of execution. Oftentimes, diversion, itself, leads to more pressure on the person, and this amount of pressure determines how far the person diverted.

These days, with the COIVD – 19 pandemic and the consequences of working from home, new sources of challenges arise to increase various types of pressure on the person. These pressures include, but are not limited to, worries about getting infected by the virus itself; getting implicated with the economic situation; feeling of isolation; and fears of frustration and depression—each, or all of which, contribute to the end result.

This article will highlight the steps on how to stay focused on executing the task, which helps translate intent to reality and make for a smoother and more achievable path. It will also highlight tips on how to help people get back on track in case of diversion.

“Execution is putting your mind, your heart and your body in action”, Noura Hamade

There are prerequisites to help carry the execution successfully and avoid any execution pitfalls. These prerequisites include:

  1. Clear vision of where we need to be;
  2. Clear understanding of where we are;
  3. Clear knowledge of what options we have to reach there;
  4. Aligned individuals who have the right skills related to the required task, in addition to their ability to implement. They are aware of both the big picture and have a clear understanding of their tasks. To help motivate them, they should also know what is in it for them.

Once the above is in place, the following are the three steps to manage your execution successfully:

a) Priorities: Before carrying out the act of putting the plan into effect, the first step is to prioritize the implementation by developing phases of implementation to make it happen based on business priorities. Doing so, means listing all the actions, and prioritizing them based on the following criteria:

  1. Which action has more impact on the results?
  2. Which action brings me closer to where I need to be?
  3. Which action has priority (i.e. quick-win, relevance, urgency, etc.)

After that, it is all about just do it and the discipline in doing it.

“Just Do IT” —NIKE

b) Review: Assess the current state to recognize where you are, assessing your progress by asking the simple question, “where are we against the organization’s performance indicator”, and against the target (plan). Then define and analyze the gap with the intention to take any corrective actions and changes, as needed.

c) Improve: The improvement stage is a concept that aims to enhance performance which allows us to improve our results and deliver better-than-expected results. It is very important at this stage to recognize and understand the outcome of the review.

Based on the review outcome and the gap analysis, you should conduct corrective actions to address potential gaps. This could require more challenging courses of action, such as adjusting the initial plan. Part of building the corrective actions part, is to understand what leads to this diversion, and recognize the pressure, the source of that pressure, and whether you can control it or manage it, and how you can minimize the effects of it. All the while, being mindful of improvement: It is a process and should be weaved into the culture of all organizations. Improvement should be considered in one of the two following conditions:

  1. If the review identifies a gap between the actual and the plan


  1. If any new factors arise and could impact the plan or the execution

Finally, the trap which most executives find themselves in, after the improvement stage and the corrective actions, is directly starting the implementation without realigning the stakeholders involved in the initial plan, or the persons affected by these corrective actions. This trap will result in the failure of the process.


“For tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”

African proverb


The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly identified a significant gap in management across all sectors; it has revealed that we are far from our ideal standards of planning.

As organizations, we have a set of business processes or routines that we follow year after year. Many of these simply take the previous year’s results and add incremental goals for the next year, which depends on growth objectives and board-level directives and ambitions.

Management is greatly focused on growth but lacks focus on future thinking, particularly crisis management. Firms lack the necessary skills to run the organization in the event something unexpected happens, which may very well threaten the organization’s well-being.

This uncertainty has led to a discussion amongst business leaders about planning for events like this pandemic; the resilience during and after; and the relationship between both planning and resilience.

Crises often lead to diversions from original plans, and create more pressure on senior management. To strengthen resilience and improve the likelihood of success, a clear plan should be in place to follow, irrespective of the situation the firm finds itself facing—whether a pandemic or a market disruption.

While planning is, perhaps, second-nature to humans, the more important question is: Do we plan correctly?

One of the analogies recommended to ensure that planning is simple and understood, is the “GPS analogy”, which clearly defines the three components of planning as:

1) Going to? – Where do we need to be?

2) Positioned where? – Where are we?

3) Search options – What options do we have to get there?

1- Going to? – Where do we need to be? Every good plan starts with the end -point:

– Where we need to be?

– What we want to achieve?

– What is our dream?

Simply stated, we need to clearly articulate our vision.

Vision is The dream of where we need to be. Knowing what you want to achieve, seeing that end-result, and visualizing what it looks like, is essential for success.  One of the most powerful tools is to clearly detail it (i.e. write it down) where it can be seen, discussed, and ultimately realized. By visualizing the dream, it becomes part of your personal motivation, and attracts the positive result you are seeking.

2- Positioned where? – Where are we now? To execute this vision, we need to have a clear perception and knowledge of our current state and position.

– Where are we?

– What is our position?

– What is the cause for the current situation?

– What happened? Why are we in this situation? Are we aware

about the history and background?

It is critical to understand what our strengths are. What did not go as planned, and what could have been done to rectify the situation. It is also important to keep track of the impact of the results in order to build on them. This may be accomplished with a thorough analysis of successes, challenges and results.

3- Search options – What options do we have to get there?

When we know where we are now, and where we want to be, the third stage of planning is to bridge the gap. The most efficient way is by determining the options available and formulating a strategy to achieve it.

We need to determine and develop a strategic road map to provide the direction and maintain a forward focus.  This strategy is a series of measurable actions designed to close the gap, and are subject to change depending on the circumstances.

Building the necessary strategy should recognize the following key points:

  1. Options available
  2. Risk for each option, understanding or awareness of the risks/ issues that could stop you from performing the required task
  3. Key success factors for each option
  4. The human capital needed, roles and responsibilities, based on the actions needed to execute the goal
  5. Key performance indicators (KPI), to determine the progress
  6. Tools and support needed to deliver the plan

In times of uncertainty, it is clarity of purpose and vision, provided through the right plan, that will allow us to face uncertainties and steer in the right direction—for success.

Like any journey, this road map to success should be communicated in such a way that every person in the organization knows the plan; how it is actioned; and what it will ultimately achieve. These components can be brought together to create a common mission statement to explain its purpose, focus and vision for success.

Individual work, and Individuals Working Together

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to far, go together.”

—African Proverb


There are two different approaches that lead to desired outcomes: First, an idea may be created and executed by an individual. Second, a group of individuals who combine their efforts and collaborate in executing the idea—more commonly known as teamwork.

Business is ultimately about the bottom line. An idea needs to be executed and produce desired results in order to be deemed successful, whether it is executed individually or by group of individuals working together.

Realizing an idea and working toward a goal in order to achieve desired results, whether as an individual or as a group of individuals working together, has both pros and cons.

Working individually will allow the person to dig deep and really ignite one’s creativity, which allows the individual to reflect personal interests and ideas on a greater scale. It is independent work that leads to better representation of the individual’s perspective, and provides the opportunity to showcase competency and talent. When working independently, individuals often leverage the ability to expedite decision-making, which, in turn, allows for faster implementation.

However, individual work is not without challenges. Working independently may cause an individual to become more subjective and consequently, less receptive to constructive or corrective feedback. As well, they maybe more unwilling to entertain, accept or be open to other’s ideas and viewpoints. It may also cause the individual to feel overwhelmed, as the pressure is solely on them rather than dividing it among a group of people.

Teamwork is effective when all team members share a common mental model of teamwork, grounded in trust (Kirkman et al. 2019). This is not the case in most teamwork settings today. When working in a team, results are uniform across all members, regardless of an individual member’s input and participation.

Teamwork also comes with the intrinsic challenges of overcoming slow decision- making and reducing an individual’s creativity, as a result of too much control.

As well, within a team, individuals can risk creating a dysfunctional work environment where bullying, lack of individual responsibility, over-dependence on others, and unhealthy competition, create barriers to a successful outcome.

In order to mitigate possible pitfalls of team management, leaders should shift their focus from managing “team” output, to managing “individual” outputs of those within the group.

Successful organizations are the ones who manage their business based on individuals working together; not teamwork. This is because when a group of individuals work together—the result and combining of disparate parts from within; an accumulation from each individual effort—and the final product is the work of the collective group.

Working together can have many benefits ingrained in the nature of successfully bringing together different skills, practices, experiences, opinions, disciplines and approaches, which can lead to immunity toward diversion. Ideally, creative problem-solving occurs, and a diversity of thought is promoted in a safe and trust-based environment, to achieve the end result.

Working with others not only benefits the group, but allows the individual to develop their ability beyond just tolerance and avoiding judgment or stereotyping, to recognize, understand, accept and respect, diversity; and by capitalizing on individual differences and understanding that each individual is unique. An effective group maintains a blend of individual identities, and does not dilute or reduce itself into a single-team identity. They are closely familiar with each other’s competencies, talents and abilities, so they place value on this uniqueness, and capitalize on, and leverage each other, to achieve results.

The more an individual is exposed to various personalities, the more likely they will develop an ability to engage with others in their business and personal interests; build and manage expectations; and manage conflicts and improve their communication skills.

Regardless of whether the idea is being executed by one individual or a group of individuals working together, there are five key factors that contribute to the success of the job. Such factors include:

  1. A Common Goal: is an idea of the future or desired result that a person or group of people envisions, and commits to achieve. Having a common goal reduces conflict and makes it easy to align people.
  2. Intention to do: Every action starts with the intention to do or to achieve. In addition, having a solid understanding of the idea and the end-point, is crucial to developing a plan of action.
  3. The knowledge and skills to execute: The learning ability in people to perform a particular task, and do something well.
  4. Integrity: A set of behaviours that give you the feeling of confidence and the trust that everyone in the group will behave in a way that is acceptable by the others.
  5. Discipline/System/Mechanism to work: Discipline is the recipe for success, whether it is individual work or a group of individuals working together. System, are tools which can organize the relationship between all stakeholders and help define the way each organization wants to work. The mechanism to work is not as crucial for an individual, but essential for a group of individuals working together. Policies and procedures are implemented to outline and specify the mechanisms required for people to manage the relationship, and the expectations while they are working together. Establishing clear processes and frameworks to define the work, will avoid challenges and chaos.

Understand Expectations: Individuals within a group must be well aware of others’ expectations, to be able to deliver on any task or responsibility. Thus, understanding of expectations is a critical component of ensuring individual responsibility and delivery toward better cohesiveness and output of individuals within a group.

Testing your understanding and confirming other individuals’ requirements allow you to deliver successful results and mitigate disappointments and frustrations.

Understand Challenges: In a group setting, individuals will be faced with challenges, issues, and varied problems, that will require the individual to overcome them, with or without the support of others. To do this, each individual should be wary and conscious of others on an individual and personal level to successfully overcome challenges.

In the words of Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning, Keeping together is a progress, Working together is success”. This not only exemplifies the steps in forming a cohesive objective, and working toward it, but it also strongly defines the importance of individualistic identity and the relation of which to achieve common objectives.

Are leaders born or made?

Since the early days of human studies, many people have tried to answer the simple yet difficult question: “Are leaders born or made?” There is an abundance of conflicting thought supporting both. It’s a hot topic still asked in every business conversation, particularly when there is a discussion about company culture. In this article, I will dive into the question, “Are leaders born or made?”

To start, we should differentiate between the word “Leader” and the word “Leadership”. “Leader” refers the position of power, where the individual has the authority or the right to give an order or direction in the organization. Organizations cannot have more than one leader from a position-and-authority perspective, and known as leader-by-authority. For example, a country cannot have more than one president at a time. Similarly, when we talk about companies, the highest-titled position in the company – whether it’s the CEO, Executive Director or General Manager – is the leader, whether or not he has the skills to lead and deliver results.

Leadership is the skills and capabilities a person needs to perform these duties. It is reflected in the style, methods and practices used to manage a group of individuals, and the use of these characteristics or attributes that leader should have to deliver results.

The question is this: What leadership skills should a successful leader have? What skills does a leader need to possess in order to be able to react to various situations?

Leader needs to have the skills to create and develop a performance culture that can move the company forward, and who has the credibility to set a clear direction. Leader needs to be able to create a motivating environment, and align employees to willfully follow and execute a plan, while delivering results that pertain to the organization’s goals.

Significant research attempts to define the characteristics and attributes that are needed to help a leader’s performance excel and deliver optimum results, which are known as leadership skills.

If a leader is a position on the ladder, and leadership is a set of skills required to perform optimally, then the question should be: Is the individual born with leadership skills—inherited skills—or can the individual learn or acquire such skills?

Inherited Skills: Every individual is born with specific characteristics and inherited skills. These characteristics influence an individual’s personality, and influence how they perform certain tasks.

Some of these inherited characteristics are leadership characteristics. If an individual is born with some of those characteristics, the individual type will be labeled based on the dominated characteristic and will have an advantage when executing a task involving those particular skills that they have inherited. Examples of inherited skills are strategic, visionary, charismatic, motivator, disrupter, relationship-builder, re-builders, stress threshold, conscientiousness, etc.

As individuals, we should define our inherited skills, and further develop them. At the same time, we should understand the required skills for any job we need to engage in, and develop those required skills, accordingly. Optimally, when we find the alignment between the role and the inherited skills, there is a higher likelihood of delivering better results.

Acquired Skills: Individuals are influenced by a lot of factors throughout their lives that lead to the need to acquire additional skills, or develop existing skills, to stay current, relevant—and marketable. An individual’s leadership style is driven by the result of those acquired skills. Examples of acquired characteristics are if a person demonstrates an autocratic leadership style, which means they retain all power—in their hands. If they demonstrate a democratic leadership style, they welcome and value employees’ input. If they demonstrate a bureaucratic leadership style, such are leaders perform duties under hierarchy of authority and highly regulated environments. Finally, there is the laissez-faire style leader who delegates their responsibility, and allows employees to make decisions.

It might be, at some point, that leaders will need to demonstrate a mix of all of these leadership styles in order to adapt to the needs of different situations and frameworks which is known as situational leadership.

In summary, leading and managing organizations requires a number of leadership skills. Whether the individual is born with one or more leadership characteristics, the individual is still required to develop both the inherited and acquired skills that are needed to be able to further develop both themselves, and the organization’s strategy—and align company employees to execute the plan successfully. The leader’s key objective is to develop the required skills in order to always be a better version of themselves.

This is why A leader is born, and THE leader is made.

Statement about Racism and Discrimination

For more than a week, we’ve been witnessing the events that led to the tragic and unjust death of George Floyd. And sadly, black racism goes deeper—for decades and centuries.Racial inequality and inequity concern and affect all of us. We must band together as a society, and accept and embrace the black community—all communities.

We denounce racism—in all its forms—as a horrendous and unacceptable act, and which has no place in our community. Racism and discrimination are not part of CIMMO’s fundamental beliefs, and we support the action to dismantle and eradicate it.

CIMMO represents marketers locally and internationally. As always, we will continue to live our mission to make the world a better place, through marketing. In earnest, we will—as we have since inception— continue our commitment to working hard with our members, volunteers and partners to promote—and live—a culture of unity, inclusivity, acceptance and respect for ALL people. But there’s much work to do: For starters, we must find ways to better represent the black community in our profession; and we will do our part to effect change in this regard.

We will be listening to our community members and partners, working with them to see real change happen—all, for a better world today, and for future generations to never again, have to experience racism, discrimination and prejudice.



Dr. Youssef A. Youssef

President and Vice-Chair

CEOs’ values, ethics, behaviour, and organizational outcome

This article is about the influence of CEOs’ values and behaviours on their organizations’ culture, which shapes performance outcomes and secures a long-lasting market leadership.

“Culture” has been a topic of discussion across various fields of business, sociology, history, and anthropology. In an article written by Charles Rogel (2014) he mentioned that “an organization’s culture consists of values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours that employees share and use on a daily basis in their work”. The culture determines how employees describe where they work, how they understand the business, and how they see themselves as part of the organization. Culture is also a driver of decisions, actions, and ultimately the overall performance of the organization.

“Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s success along with vision, strategy, financials, …etc. I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it is the game.” (Lou Gerstner, CEO IBM 1993-2002)

Organizations are embodiments of their leaderships’ values and are a mere reflection of top-down cultural alignment. In the last decade, there have been many examples of unethical practices by CEOs or senior managers that have had a negative impact on their organizations, in some cases, leading to legal action. Therefore, understanding CEOs’ influence on culture requires a strong comprehension of the role that values, ethics, morals and behaviours play in relation to the CEO, and their impact on business.

Values are our fundamental beliefs. They are a set of personal principles we use to measure what is right, good, and important to us. They are the standards that provide guidance to distinguish between right and wrong. Culturally, we see differences as to how values are defined.

Honesty, integrity, compassion, courage, honour, responsibility, patriotism, respect and fairness, are among the most commonly heard-of and observed values. One could categorize the values formally mentioned as “personal values”, and are often considered to be values derived from a higher authority. That is a convenient way to differentiate them from what are often called “utilitarian” or “business values”, such as excellence, quality, safety and service, which define some elements of positive and negative attributes in a business context.

It should come as no surprise that organizations that endure long-term success have core values and a core purpose of which they remain fixated on, despite, at times, a period “bumpy” days. What changes, are their business strategies and practices, and these are changing endlessly to adapt to the ever-changing demands of the business world. Respected and fundamentally sound companies understand what should remain sacred. The ability to manage continuity and change is down to the consciousness of the organization.

Ethics are a set of rules, which are commonly agreed upon, known, and communicated within a group of people, and form a standard guideline for conduct. Ethics are the rules from which behaviours are measured and evaluated—for their morality. Consider ethics to be the governance instrument that steers individual accountability toward our interactions with others, ultimately influencing and permitting certain behaviours, which constitute our interactions.

Consider the word, “evaluate”: When we evaluate something, we compare it to an existing or known standard or benchmark. We determine whether it meets such standard, falls short of it, comes close, or far exceeds it. To evaluate is to determine the merit of the subject or action as compared to a standard.

A Code of Ethics, which reflects a company’s values, is the document that portrays the culture that defines what one can expect the behaviours of the company, and its employees to exhibit. They constitute and illustrate the commitment to the organization’s fundamental principles (values), ultimately shaping the organization’s interactions, outputs, and how it conducts business.

While the business strategy paves the way for achieving the organization’s mission, the Code of Ethics details the platform from which the leadership team, along with all employees, use to achieve it. To an army, a Code of Ethics is not the battle plan, but rather the marching orders with which it must be aligned—with great precision—to ensure it is exhibited and carried out internally, as well as observed externally. They are the means to the end; their related behaviours need to be clear and consistently need to be explained, interpreted and discussed. Regardless of position, role or rank, those who do not reflect the Code of Ethics should be apprehended so that those who do, are retained enough to reap the rewards.

Business ethics are the principles that guide the way a business behaves. Many subject areas are based on broad principles of integrity and fairness regarding issues such as accounting practices, product quality, customer satisfaction, employee wages and benefits, local community, environmental responsibilities, etc.

Some organizations are public about their values and Code of Ethics, while others are not. However, with today’s countless cases of major accounting frauds that have obliterated employee pension funds and investor capital, it has become increasingly more vital for organizations to publicly state and commit to their values and Code of Ethics. Companies that publicly commit to their values and Code of Ethics, tend to align themselves on the positive side of the public eye and have an obligation to stakeholders, customers, and employees to uphold their commitments to such values.  On the other hand, companies that fail to define their values may often be those that don’t have any. This lack of commitment to build and live by a set values or a code is a strong indication of a company that lacks identity, and whose elements are not grounded or known to outsiders—and quite possibly, its employees.

Morals, in brief, are a set of self-imposed standards that govern one’s relation with themself, to adhere to their values and ethical composition. Morals dictate to which extent a person can stand for, compromise, or disconnect from their values and ethics, despite influences by others—be it a superior authority, colleagues or even subordinates.

If the employees within the organization are governed by a single set of values and ethics, and they embody such values and ethics, then individual morality will be in sync with that of the organization. Whistleblowers are a great example of some of the known cases where such individual-to-organization alignments of values are not met, aside from possible legal implications. In modern times, in multinational or culturally diverse organizations, employees stem from various culturally influenced value systems that may not align with the organization’s code of ethics. This gap in alignment, a possible lack of culture-fit, can lead to a wide range of individual moral conflicts between employees; and a disconnect may be evident. Undisputedly, diversity is strength; but having the right culture-fit is a necessity that many organizations have geared their recruitment process to selectively proceed with those candidates that exhibit the appropriate culture-fit.

Behaviour is the outward expression and reflection of our morals that compose our interaction or reaction to people and circumstances we face. It is based on how others view us and how they judge us.

With no insight into peoples’ minds, one’s ethics and morals can only be evaluated through their behaviour. Therefore, when one acts in ways that are consistent with our values and ethics, we will characterize that as acting ethically. When one’s actions are not congruent with our values—our sense of right, good and just—we will view that as acting unethically.

“Organizational outcomes were a reflection of the top leader’s cognition and values”, (upper echelons theory – Hambrick and Mason, 1984)

There is a very clear link between leadership values, ethics, morals and behaviours, and the success of the business: Leaders are the ones who set the tone of the organization by influencing the culture and defining the set of ethics within which it operates. To keep leading in a dynamic and challenging environment, a leader must lead by example, maintain the discipline, commitment and responsibility, and adhere to the culture of the organization, to accomplish and deliver the task.

Are Marketing and Ethics Mutually Exclusive?

Ethics in marketing is a hot topic that draws a fine line between right and wrong, depending on how you look at it. But what is right or wrong? There is inherent subjectivity within. So how does one figure out—objectively— what the best way is to take an adulterated and altruistic approach to planning an ethics roadmap for their brand—and living by it? It’s imperative it’s one that will guide all of their communications in a manner that will ensure ethics are upheld in the most transparent and consistent manner.

Ethical marketing is not so much a marketing strategy, rather, a philosophy that drives all marketing efforts. Ethics ought to also promote honesty, fairness and responsibility—in all communications—including advertising, marketing, PR, content, social, etc. Really, it’s any form or technique—traditional or digital—of selling to, or connecting with, consumers. And it most definitely needs stringency when it comes to minors. Ethics is a difficult topic to discuss, let alone arrive at any consensus, because of the subjective judgments everyone displays about what is ethical and what it isn’t.

Ethical marketing is not a clearly defined list of rules or regulations; rather, a guideline or framework to help companies evaluate their marketing strategies and tactics. They develop them in accordance to their culture, their belief systems, and their views on right vs. wrong. As mentioned, earlier, anyone can develop a set of ethics, but actually living by them is an entirely different story. And the latter is where most of the issues lie when it comes to brands and marketers. Not to oversimplify it, but it boils down to: Do vs. say.

Questionable, or perhaps outright unethical marketing practices, are rampant—in most, if not all, business sectors! From pharmaceuticals, to food and dining, to agriculture, to credit-scoring, to advertising itself, to politics, to law enforcement, to automotive and emissions, to recycling, to cosmetics, skincare and testing, to charity and transparency, to healthcare, to finance and trust, to energy, to news, to real estate and, to what has become the most important and high-profile concern: personal-data privacy. As you can see, the list is lengthy. And we all, in some form or other, have been adversely affected by unethical behaviours in marketing.

Ethical marketers exercise sympathy and emotion, while unethical ones exploit them. Some unethical marketing practices could, for example, include those who intentionally evoke sadness, empathy—even rage— to effect or manipulate consumer decision-making. Such widely used tactics as fear, targeting disadvantaged people, or trickery, including bait-and-switch, where brands advertise something that is not really available or at the price communicated, just to get customers to come in, at which point they pitch them with other more expensive products.

Bait-and-switch is an advertising technique, which can be—and oftentimes is—considered illegal. But in many cases it is looked upon as a dishonest practice by consumer protection agencies. A typical bait-and-switch practice includes advertised prices, which are exceptionally low in order to muster attention and motivate consumers to come into your store or visit your online channel, and then switch on them. That’s the “cheat” part.

Such practices are used by many brands, who, for myriad reasons, try to maintain shareholder value, sales and revenue targets, social corporate responsibility, etc. Some practices result in brands covertly, and diabolically carrying out campaigns and claims supporting their ethics in business. For example, VW allegedly misled and deceived customers with its advertising campaign, which it used to promote its supposedly “Clean Diesel” vehicles. But the truth was uncovered by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Consequently, VW were slapped with a $25B fine because it allegedly cheated on pollution emission tests, which needed to meet stringent environmental testing thresholds. Their marketing efforts supported this claim. Then the paying consumer and customer found out. Rage ensued because they were tricked into believing they bought from a socially conscious company. And they proudly did so based on this very belief. So you can see how ethics was a key and emotional issue here.

Before we dive into some examples, let’s take a moment to clarify what ethical marketing means and encompasses. There are issues around ethics that include respect for the environment; transparency and accountability; good and fair working conditions; fair-trade practices; gender equity; child and enforced-labour practices, to name but a few. Ethical marketing refers to the application of marketing ethics into the marketing process. A few of my sources—generally and briefly—state that marketing ethics refers to the philosophical examination of particular marketing issues that are matters of moral judgment.

To get a firmer understanding of ethics in practice, let’s look at some examples where brands live by a good set of ethics—overall, not just in marketing. TOMS, the shoe brand, https://www.toms.com/ was founded by Blake Mycoskie in 2006, following a trip to Argentina. During his visit, he saw, first-hand, how the impoverished were living—without shoes; something many of us likely take for granted. As a result, Mycoskie established his company with giving in mind.

He has donated 60M+ pairs of shoes to children in need all over the world. What’s more, TOMS’ eyewear division has donated 400,000+ pairs of glasses to those who are visually impaired and have no access to eye care. There are many more examples about TOMS’ “giving” nature. And his communications programs support these initiatives. But most importantly, TOMS follows through on their commitments!

Another example of ethical marketing from a brand that perhaps is not as widely known as some leading brands, is Dr. Bronner, a cleansing (soap) product company. We know there’s controversy around what brands use as their ingredients: Is it safe? Do they engage in animal testing? Does it harm the environment? Do the labelling of products include genetically modified ingredients?

These are just some of the questions that concern consumers, especially among the younger demographics such as Gen Z and Gen Y. They’re looking for brands who are socially responsible—and live by their claims; but also those who don’t assault them with ad messages which they have learned to pretty much ignore. Did you know that 92% of millennial consumers are more likely to buy products from companies who have ethical practices in place? And 82% of those consumers believe ethical brands do better than similar companies that lack or don’t have a firm commitment to ethical principles. These are big numbers; and brands not paying attention to them will experience drastic—and surprising—reductions in revenue, brand reputation and brand equity. All, very costly for brands to build, and take years to achieve.

Back to Dr. Bonner: So what’s unique about them? For starters, Founder, Emanuel H. Bronner established a book on ethics: The Moral ABC, an example would include raising environmental awareness, social injustices, the use of USDA-certified fair-trade ingredients, and equitable compensation such as that limiting executive pay to five times that of field-level employees. To put the last point into some perspective, Dunkin’ Donuts CEO, Nigel Travis, for example, said in 2015, that paying workers a minimum wage of $15 per hour was “absolutely outrageous” despite the fact that he personally earns about $4,889 per hour. Do the math; it’s incredulous!

Here’s a chart Dr. Bronner uses to gauge their ethics, engagement—and results:

“Everyone is a product of choices and circumstances. No one has power over circumstances, but each person has power over one’s choices.”  —Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt

As mentioned earlier, personal privacy, with e-commerce sites and online shopping, and other sites that ask for your personal information so you can use their app and pay, and where they can develop intelligence around your buying habits and preferences, is a big concern among consumers right now. Many e-commerce sites like Amazon, Walmart and Wayfair, among thousands more, as well as credit card companies like Visa, MasterCard and Amex, and merchants—online and off—like Apple and Shopify, and like Canadian Tire, Lowe’s, Best Buy and HBC, etc., all collect personal data. This collection provides them with intelligence and the ability to personalize offerings, and predict their customers’ next purchase, among other things. But consumer concerns are valid and justified, especially given how so many breaches have occurred over the past decade. And the breaches are getting bigger and bigger.

Most recently, in February 2020, Estée Lauder experienced a large-scale data breach. Locally, here in Toronto, just weeks ago in early 2020, The Beer Store in Ontario, Canada, also experienced a data breach that not many knew about. Consequently, they opted to cash-only transactions. Problem was, this happened during the Covid- 19 health crisis, so customers were perplexed, wondering why, during a time like this, were they asking for cash-only transactions. In 2017, Equifax experienced a data breach that exposed 147M personal records. Or what about Ashley Madison, the site that offers discreet encounters? The site, from my readings, exposed 32M records, which also resulted in some divorces. Others that had their customers’ databases breached, include Capitol One – 106M, Cathay Pacific – 9.4M, Dropbox – 68.7M, Facebook, on one of numerous occasions – 540M, Home Depot – 56M, JP Morgan Chase – 76M, and Microsoft – 250M, among many more. And counting! So you can see how prevalent it is. It’s become a serious problem. So consumers, depending on where in the world they live—some more than others, some less—all have a growing degree of apprehension toward parting with their personal information; it’s extremely private and personal data. But the issue with these perceived diabolic incidents, is what brands do with personal data. For example—and most problematic—is the selling to, or sharing of, your data with third parties.

But what is personal data or personal information? According to The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada website https://www.priv.gc.ca/en/ at time of writing, it states the following criteria that define personal information:

  • Race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age or marital status
  • Education, medical, criminal or employment history of an individual or information about financial transactions
  • Any assigned identifying number or symbol
  • Address, fingerprints or blood type
  • Personal opinions or views except where they are about another individual
  • Proposal for a grant, an award or a prize to be made to another individual by a government institution
  • Private or confidential correspondence sent to a government institution
  • The views or opinions of another individual about the individual
  • The views or opinions of another individual about a proposal for a grant, an award or a prize to be made to the individual by an institution
  • The name of the individual where it appears with other related personal information, and where the disclosure of the name itself would reveal information about the individual

Criteria on how personal data is used:

Regarding research itself, there are major ethical issues to consider:

  1. Informed consent
  2. Beneficence – Do not harm
  3. Respect for anonymity and confidentiality
  4. Respect for privacy
  5. Transparency regarding use of personal information. What brands, third parties do with information
  6. Ensuring those under eighteen years of age, are—in every regard—excluded from collection. Full stop!
  7. Data collection must be completely voluntary.

Although this is a departure from marketing, I wanted to share this just to give you insight on how far some employers will go to collecting personal information. Regardless, albeit used and collected differently, for different purposes, marketing is not new to some of this. Here is what some employers in the U.S. do regarding collecting personal data on prospective employees, for example. According to Michael McFarland, SJ of Markkula Center of Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, “[…] some employers collect data that would surprise many. For instance, potential employers have a great interest in the medical, financial and criminal records of applicants. They often request and receive such information.” https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus- areas/internet-ethics/resources/unauthorized-transmission-and-use-of-personal-data/ “A congressional survey in 1978, for instance, found that 20 percent of the criminal history records given out by the states went to private corporations and government agencies not involved in criminal justice.”

January 28 is Data Privacy Day—recognized by countries around the world. Data Privacy Day highlights the impact technology has on privacy rights, and emphasizes the importance of valuing and safeguarding of personal information. The marketing community certainly takes this very seriously. But every year the day comes and goes. Does this mean those behind collecting the data can go back to unethical practices after a 24-hour reprieve? It has become very evident over the past decade that consumer fears surrounding personal data breaches, which include identity theft, money theft, and personal-information theft, and selling of same, landing in the hands of unknown, unscrupulous and unethical third parties. It happens every day, and consumers know this, and hear about it often in the news, online, on the radio and in the papers. It’s real and it happens—too often.

Among consumers, there is a growing expectation that brands will provide relevant and timely offers, information, personalization and improved experiences—all of which are reliant on collecting your personal data. But there is an ultimate purpose: these yield to brand advocacy. Consumers know this and they feel, somewhat, caught between a rock and a hard place; they feel cornered, so to speak, in having to give their personal information, or they have limited or no way of buying products they want, online. So what’s one to do? Well, like the masses, you trustingly give your information to marketers and brands, and hope all will be okay.

It’s all you have, really. Sure, those seeking restitution have somewhat been successful. Indeed, there have been lawsuits, and out-of-court payouts, but that doesn’t bring back your data from potentially unscrupulous parties. But is that really what one has to endure to buy something?

But, look, I’m not trying to bash or cast a negative light on marketers and brands—not at all. I mean I’m in the business, myself! But I do believe in ethics, I do believe in transparency, and I do believe in earning trust—and keeping it. But what I am doing is merely highlighting real-life cases where data—for marketing purposes—is collected, and how things go awry.

That said, I think a shift ought to happen where privacy should be about trust. Trust is a long-term thing, whereas privacy can only last a day, an hour, a transaction. It’s not merely about semantics; it’s about positively deepening the feeling and emotions of those who part with their personal data, and consistently delivering on ethics-based uses of it; not selling or sharing it with third parties; keeping it safe; and being honest and transparent. Because once data is let out of the bottle, there’s no getting it back in. The reality is many, if not most consumers, know that data is being collected about them. Consumers leave it behind like a popcorn trail with every card transaction, bank ATM visit, website we visit, and mobile phone call we make. In each and every one of these scenarios we send off signals that say something about our interests, our behaviours and our preferences.

So you can see how consumers are worried about parting with their data, or about data that’s already available, and therefore, vulnerable. But marketer data (like marketing content) is the new currency. They need it to better market to you—in a very targeted, timely and personalized fashion. That’s the goal. But the process in getting there, from a marketer’s perspective, is what separates ethical marketers from unethical ones. The more they know about you, the more they can curate their offerings to you. Personalization is a big trend right now, especially in retail. Amazon, for example, is a huge collector of personal data. And they work hard to use it to their benefit, so as to make the shopping experience relevant, timely, and personable—on a hyper-targeted, granular 1:1 level. All of this is written in the extensive “fine print” on websites or paper versions—all of which are never read by most because in modern commerce there’s an unwritten or unspoken understanding and expectation between brands and marketers—and their customers—that their data will be used ethically. That’s why most of us never read the terms and conditions before clicking, ‘I agree’.

There’s this kind of “blissful ignorance” or naiveté among consumers who simply assume brands will do right and be ethical just to keep their business. But is sharing of their data, which is written in the lengthy legalese as to what they can, and will, do with it, considered ethical because it is assumed you read it, but really don’t? There’s an element of trust and an element of blissful ignorance, so consumers move along the path-to-purchase. Their belief is, “I don’t think it will happen to me.” Until it does! Based on my research, 75% of consumers (three out of every 4), say they would take negative action against irresponsible or unethical brands. So brands need to be aware of these consequences where brand equity will be affected, trust diminished, and loyalty declined—all serious factors that can take years to rebuild, if at all.

Data should be used to benefit both parties—culminating a personalized experience that delights the customer, and the increased revenue and profit that benefits shareholders. Earning the respect and trust of customers and consumers at every point of contact, every transaction, is key. If brands and marketers put such processes in place, and truly understand the nature of their ethical responsibility, it’s a win/win.

There are governing bodies, professional organizations like Ontario Medical Association, Professional Engineers of Ontario, Ontario Bar Association, Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario, that have ethics committees. Some have formal and stringent Legislation Bills to help mitigate, investigate, enforce or avoid unethical practices in their respective fields. But it still happens. So are these watchdog eyes enough?

What checkpoints or measures can be exercised to ensure absolute transparency? Is it even realistic? Is it supported? Are they up-front with their intentions? Does industry speak out of both sides of its mouth? Are there any companies that can claim they’re ethical? There are characteristics, which ethics comprise, such as stewardship, honesty, integrity and respect. I would opine that some institutions, companies, government agencies, non-profits, etc., may practice some of these, but I’m inclined to think many do not engage in all of these characteristics. So does being a partial supporter make one ethical? Or does one have to exercise all characteristics to be considered “ethical?” I mean, is anyone or any brand perfect? Can they be? Then, of course, there is the all-important profitability: What role does bottom-line reporting to shareholders play when it comes to answering to ethics? Is it a key motivator?

Ethical use in marketing-driven data:

We now live in a world of data-driven everything; it’s all around us. And there are varying levels of consumer trepidation. But it’s also an exciting place to be for consumers and marketers, alike. From ordering an Uber, to ordering in dinner, to purchasing movie tickets, to grocery shopping, to even finding a soul mate—everything is online these days. We live in a world of data-driven convenience for consumers. But with these new levels of conveniences and experiences, come new levels of responsibilities (hopefully ethical ones), for brands.

In Canada, ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. https://www.ourcommons.ca/Committees/en/ETHI

Ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime.


Take Nivea, for example, a well-known German-based brand we regularly see on TV commercials (in Canada), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zOfpBVQnes featuring, Tessa Virtue, promoting, “feeling good in your skin.” But in West Africa, the spot https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2017/10/20/558875377/nivea ad-for-visibilty-fairer-skin-sparks-controversy-in-west-africa says communicates virtually an opposite message. It says it “[T]o visibly lighten [and care for] your skin.” But the issue is, the messages are fundamentally contrasting—for the same product: Feel good in your own skin vs. How to lighten your skin. Feel good vs. vanity. Hmm…

In West Africa—from Cameroon to Ghana and Senegal, there was call on social media for a boycott on Nivea products, and for the ads to be pulled, using the hashtag #pullitdownnow. Many described this ad as “racist, colourist and tone-deaf.” If true, is Nivea being unethical? Is their ad misleading? You decide. After all, principle aside, you are the consumer, and your threshold, tolerance and acceptance levels will determine if such practices are ethical. Or not. Perception is reality.

Then there is the controversy over animal testing use in the cosmetics industry. How many times in the last decade have we heard of brands claiming to be cruelty-free, and touting they use no animals in their testing? It’s become a marketing selling point and a key differentiator. But when it is not the case, is this considered covert manipulation? Is it a play on ignorance? According to https://www.peta.org/living/personal-care- fashion/beauty-brands-that-you-thought-were-cruelty-free-but-arent/ these companies, in China, allegedly still use animals in their testing. They include Estée Lauder, Maybelline, Mary Kay and Elizabeth Arden, among others.

Another example is L’Oreal. They don’t test on animals in the U.S., but allegedly, “[…] pays for testing in China, where experiments on animals are required for cosmetics.” But in North America, we probably don’t hear about this. In China, Internet walls are installed to block Chinese from seeing or hearing about western adoption of cruelty-free testing. As such, ethics—or lack thereof—continue to be exercised, all in the name of commercialism, capitalism and profit.

Yet, another: Uber, the ride-hailing service was caught red-handed after its drivers realized major discrepancies in pay: “[t]he FTC said Uber had “inflated” its hourly drivers’ earnings in online marketing and advertisements to attract drivers to its platform. “However, once drivers [had] begun to receive their paychecks, [d]rivers [had] discovered their actual earnings were substantially less than Uber claimed[…] For example, on Craigslist, Uber advertised drivers in Minneapolis could earn $18 per hour, and Boston drivers as high as $25 per hour. In both cases, however, less than 10% of Uber [drivers made] the advertised hourly rate.

And, still, according to The Telegraph article in February 27, 2017, “Energy drinks brand, Red Bull was claiming that the drink ‘gives you wings.’ https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11155731/13m-lawsuit-proves-Red-Bull- doesnt-give-you-wings.html “The company settled the class action case by agreeing to pay out a maximum of $13 million—including $10 to every U.S. consumer who had bought the drink since 2002. The tagline, which the company has used for nearly two decades, went alongside marketing claims that the caffeinated drink could improve a person’s concentration and reaction speed.”

“Beganin Caraethers was one of several consumers who brought the case against the Austrian drinks company. He said he was a regular consumer of Red Bull for 10 years, but that he had not developed “wings,” or shown any signs of improved intellectual or physical abilities. Red Bull settled the lawsuit to avoid the cost and distraction of litigation. However, Red Bull maintains that its marketing and labeling have always been truthful and accurate, and denies any and all wrongdoing or liability.” One has to wonder.

How about “scientifically proven” or “guaranteed results?”

According to a Business Insider article https://www.businessinsider.com/false-advertising-scandals-2017-2 – activia-yogurt-said-it-had-special-bacterial-ingredients-2, “[a]ds for Danone’s popular Activia brand yogurt landed the company with a class-action settlement of $45 million in 2010, according to ABC News. The yogurts were marketed as being “clinically” and “scientifically” proven to boost your immune system and able to help to regulate digestion. The Activia ad campaign, fronted by actress Jamie Lee Curtis, claimed that the yogurt had special bacterial ingredients. As a result, the yogurt was sold at 30% higher prices than other similar products. However, the Cleveland judge overseeing the case said that these claims were unproven.”

Child labour

This form of labour is the most ethical part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). It ought to be a key component of the CSR agenda of any business that has child labour in its supply chain. Brands that do not exploit children in their factories, fields, etc., do make this known to consumers. Sadly, this, too, in some cases, has become a differentiating factor for some brands, as they use it as a defence mechanism for the media, but also in their marketing communications plans.

Let’s define child labour:

International Labour Organisation (ILO), whose member states include myriad countries—from Austria, Afghanistan, Algeria, and Australia, to Chile, China, Canada and Croatia, to South Africa, Somalia, Sweden and Spain, to Ukraine, Uganda, USA, Uruguay, and so many more, defines child labour “as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.”

Basically, according to ILO it refers to any kind of work that is “mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.”

A little back-story on the known beginnings of child labour: Sadly, it dates back to the Industrial Revolution occurring between 1712 – 1914. Children were considered effective labourers because of their small physical stature. Unlike adults, they were able to access places adults could not. In the colonies under European rule, mostly in Africa, governors promoted the use of child labour. Government administrations imposed head taxes on those who were older than eight. This levy helped factories legally recruit young children while at the same time, their adult parents could not work, with family living expenses. On this side of the ocean, in the U.S., child labour was also a common practice. So much so, in the 1900s eighteen percent of all workers in America were children. So child labour was quite prevalent.

Source: International Labour Office, 2013

The ILO, together with UNICEF, concluded that the primary cause of child labour is, indeed, poverty. Then child labour becomes a case of necessity—central, primary and crucial income for the family. That’s a lot of pressure on a little innocent person bearing the weight—literally and figuratively—of what an adult would be tasked to do in normal circumstances.

Marketing and child labour

Before we continue, let’s take a moment to watch these two PSA-type, eye-opening and emotional spots that try to educate and raise awareness about child labour’s rampancy: This one by Unicef: https://www.adsoftheworld.com/media/film/unicef_childlabour And this one by World Vision Canada: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vyGfVv6RI0k

The effects of child labour are many. Some are physical, while others are psychological. But both can be long-lasting—even permanent—if left untreated. Effects, include:

  • A lack of a normal childhood and its pleasant memories
  • Financial slavery
  • Physical, psychological, and/or sexual abuse
  • Inadequate nutrition, leading to possibly higher rates of diseases or small statures

So you can see why some brands that have child labour in their supply chain are silent about it. Somehow, sometimes, whether due to disaster, flooding, fire, child labour movements, etc., these companies’ practices get exposed. Then it becomes a PR nightmare for such brands. In today’s marketplace where tolerance is at an all-time low when it comes to unethical marketing practices, especially among the Gen Z and Y cohorts, you can appreciate what monumental issues some brands can—and do—face. But there is hope—a silver lining: There are many great brands, as mentioned above, that have never engaged in child-labour practices. Instead, they employ local or even international trade—fairly and equitably. Some of those brands, include:

  1. https://consciouscoffees.com/
  2. https://everlane.com/
  3. https://patagonia.com/home/
  4. https://lush.ca/en/home
  5. https://barbour.com/us/

I researched many definitions on ethical marketing. And many were great. But I settled on Wordstream’s https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2017/09/20/ethical-marketing definition because it’s so well written, and it encapsulates and defines the key and pertinent points of ethics in marketing. Here it is:

Ethical marketing relies on a long-term strategy of continuing education, campaigning, and activism. It’s about helping consumers make better, more conscious choices about the products they buy and the stores they frequent. It’s about changing the way we think about how goods are provided, the people who make and sell the things we buy every day, and the communities that rely on fair, ethical trade to survive. It’s about cultivating brand loyalty by aligning your organizational values with those of your ideal customers.

Ethics in marketing and advertising has become a very sensitive subject; it’s being amplified even more, especially in the last fifteen years, with younger cohorts demanding ethical marketing tactics from brands. In today’s complex and cutthroat retail world—online and offline—where brands fiercely compete for consumer attention, they’ve become very creative and resourceful in trying to win over consumers. As such, data (and content) has become the new currency. But sometimes marketers cross the line. But ignorance plays no favourable defence; nor do sympathy or empathy enter consumers’ minds. That said, in today’s digital world, those on the buying end need to be vigilant, leery, demanding, yet trusting, if they want to play in the same sandbox as the others. And those on the selling end, simply put, need to be transparent, ethical and scrupulous with their marketing and advertising—for the greater good.

The Perfect Combination

With the use of multimedia platforms, marketers design million-dollar campaigns, hire a plethora of creative professionals in the hope of eliciting an emotional tie between the consumer and the brand. By igniting an emotional reaction from the client, the marketer hopes to acquire new customers to purchase the brand’s products and services and retain current customers. However, the majority of this layout is highly dependent on the ability to affect and infer the consumers’ behaviour, meaning marketing mainly involves the use of consumer psychology. Although marketing campaigns are heavily reliant on the use of psychology, many businesses remain amiss to the benefits of implementing and considering a psychological component to their advertisements. Before we discuss the possible benefits of applying consumer psychology, we must first understand what it involves.

In a description of consumer psychology depicted by Dr. Lars Perner, consumer psychology involves several aspects, including: 

  1. How consumers think, feel, and differentiate between alternatives, whether it be products, brands or retailers.
  2. How a consumer is affected by socio-cultural aspects
  3. The behaviours executed while making a purchase
  4. How consumer motivation and strategies to arrive at a decision differ between products that vary in price and level of interest.
  5. And finally, how marketing campaigns can implement this knowledge to attract the consumer successfully.

With the use of all the aspects mentioned above, it’s possible that a marketing campaign can reach its consumers using psychology. But how exactly can they implement such ideas?

In an article for Fast Company, Robert Rosenthal, a distinguished German American psychologist, spent the bulk of his career investigating this question and describes five ways marketers can achieve this: 

  1. Run emotional ideas. Studies have proven time and time again that marketing messages accomplish more when they paint a picture of what the consumer will achieve with the product, rather than listing its components and features. Doing this, the marketer is essentially creating a new memory map tied to an emotion of hope or excitement, making it much easier to remember.
  2. Highlight your flaws. A large part of attracting or maintaining your current client list is the building of consumer trust, and this can be done by attending and addressing your product’s flaws instead of deceiving the consumer by hiding their existence.
  3. Reposition your competition. In an ethical and non-bashing way, reframe how the consumers view your competition. This can be done correctly by highlighting how your product can fill benefit a need in their life to a much higher degree, thus making your product the leading contender.
  4. Promote exclusivity. Understanding human needs is a significant benefit, and by understanding human psychology, you can target your customer’s ego by making them feel special if they were to continue in their purchase with your brand.
  5. Introduce fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Underline the possible consequences of their inaction. Loss aversion is an incredibly powerful motivational tool used in psychology that can be used to persuade people to purchase your product if it prevents negative outcomes.

The possible benefits of the intertwining of marketing and psychology are immense. However, there’s also a fragile line between ethical marketing and non-ethical marketing, especially when it comes to implementing subliminal psychological strategies. Several companies in the early 2000s had attempted to subliminally persuade their consumers into purchasing their product by flashing them a picture of the product below the threshold of human awareness. However, in recent years, the scientific community seems to be in consensus that this strategy simply does not work at a significant level. Nonetheless, the practice of psychology in marketing should always take into account the ethical boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed when trying to attract new clients.