Narrative Choices, Ethics and the Marketer

A good marketer never limits herself or himself to "marketing communication" or any of its corollary disciplines.

The reason is simple: marketing messages are more influential when they come from a variety of sources.

What influences you more - an ad for lipstick in a magazine, or seeing that lipstick chosen as an "Editor's Pick"?

Ads are astronomically more powerful when publicity sources are unpaid (the movie fans who sell other movie fans to buy a ticket via social media for example).

Marketers can go further - we ought to be creating customers in other ways. All of these have ethical dimensions, and not all of the possibilities are OK.

Here are some options worth exploring:

- Personal narrative - paying people to talk about your brand, wear it, photograph it. Ethical dimension: They should disclose the fact of compensation. And they should be paid fairly.

- Religious narrative - showing how services and products align with spiritual values, especially focusing on distinct religions and sects. Ethical dimension: Don't imply endorsement where none exists. Also, donating a percentage of the proceeds from a campaign like this would be decent.

- Literary narrative - paying authors to place product in stories and weave brand into plot (especially with branded authors) where mutual synergy exists. Everything from fiction, like "The Hunger Games," to inspiration/self-help is potentially a marketing vehicle, as long as the product placement is true to the characters. Ethical dimension: disclose this in the book.

There is of course a limit.

- Academic narrative: Marketing does not belong in school. Children should not be exposed to advertising specifically.

- Media narrative: Journalism should be objective. Too much of it is biased. Letting the marketers invade content completely destroys the purpose of media in the first place.

- Government narrative (including public buildings, land, nature, etc.): Marketing money just doesn't belong here. If ever there was a a place for ad-free public discourse, this is it.

It may seem crass to promote more marketing in a society already deluged. But maybe if we were more clear about where sponsorship begins and ends, it would seem a little less overwhelming.

More importantly, if we were more upfront about marketing sponsorship, the uneasiness people feel about who's paying whom to say what could go away - maybe just a bit.

Good luck!
Photos by me.


Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal is an author, independent brand researcher, and adjunct marketing professor with 20 years of varied experience. An avid researcher and prolific, creative writer, Dr. Blumenthal's interests span communication, marketing, qualitative media content analysis, political rhetoric, propaganda, leadership, management, organizational development, and more. An engaged citizen, she has for several years worked to raise awareness around child sex trafficking and the dangers of corruption at @drdannielle on Twitter. You can find her articles at Medium, and, and she frequently answers questions on Quora. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own.