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.