Whether you are playing the salesman role for your own business or you are hired to market an employer’s products or services, you need to understand the thin line between ethical and unethical marketing practices.

Ethical marketing entails making honest claims and satisfying the needs of potential and existing customers. It boosts credibility and trust, develops brand loyalty, increases customer retention, and prompts customers to spread word about the products or services you’re marketing.

Unethical marketing, on the other hand, can send wrong signals about your products and services, destroy your brand’s reputation, and possibly lead to legal problems. This explains why you should avoid them like a plague.

Your first step towards ensuring that you avoid unethical marketing practices is to recognize those practices. Of course, you can only avoid something when you can identify it. Many business owners and sales personnel have erroneously engaged in unethical marketing practices just because they never knew what these practices are in the first place. Here are ten common examples of unethical marketing practices that you must always avoid when promoting your products or services.

10 Examples of Unethical Marketing Practices That Can Destroy your Reputation

1. Making false, exaggerated, or unverified claims

In a desperate bid to compel potential and existing customers to buy their products or services, some marketers use false statements, exaggerated benefits, or make unverifiable claims about their offers. This is common in the weight loss industry, where marketers convince potential buyers that a particular product can help them shed so-and-so pounds within two weeks without exercise or dieting!

2. Distortion of facts to mislead or confuse potential buyers

This is another common unethical marketing practice. A typical example is when a food processing company claims that its products are sugar-free or calorie-free when indeed they contain sugar or calories. Such a company is only trying to mislead potential buyers, since they are unlikely to buy the products if it is made known that they contain sugar or calories.

3. Concealing dark sides or side effects of products or services

This unethical marketing practice is rife in the natural remedies industry, where most manufacturers deceive potential buyers that their products have no side effects because they are “made from natural products”. But in reality, most of these products have been found to have side effects, especially when used over a long period. In fact, there’s no product without side effects—it’s just that the side effects might be unknown. It’s better to say, “There are no known side effects” than to say “there are no side effects“.

4. Bad-mouthing rival products

Emphasizing the dark sides of your rival’s products in a bid to turn potential customers towards your own products is another common but unethical marketing practice. Rather than resort to this bad strategy, you should emphasize on those aspects that make your offer stand out from the rest of the pack. That’s professional and ethical.

5. Using women as sex symbols for advertising

The rate at which even reputable brands are resorting to this unethical marketing practice is quite alarming. If you observe TV, billboard, and magazine adverts, there’s something common to most of them; a half-naked lady is used to attract attention to the product or service being advertised. While it might be intuitive to use models in adverts for beauty products and cosmetics, having half-naked models in adverts for generators, heavy machinery, smartphones, and other products not strongly related to women is both nonsensical and unethical.

5. Using fear tactics

This is another common unethical marketing practice among snake oil salespersons. You will hear them saying something like: “This price is a limited-time offer. If you don’t buy now, you might have to pay much more to buy it later because the offer will end up in two days time, and the price will go up.” The only motive behind those statements is to prompt the potential buyer to make a decision on the spot. And that’s wrong. Why subject someone to undue pressure because you want to make money off him or her?

7. Plagiarism of marketing messages

Though uncommon, some business owners and salespersons engage in using the exact marketing messages of their competitors to market their own products or services. Creativity is a huge part of marketing, and using other businesses’ marketing messages just passes you off as being creatively bankrupt and fraudulent.

8. Exploitation

This is charging for much more than the actual value of a product or service. For marketing efforts to remain with ethical limits; the prices of your offers must be equal to or less than the value they give the buyer. If the value is less than the cost, it’s unethical.

9. Demeaning references to races, age, sex, or religion

Ethical marketing must be devoid of all forms of discrimination. If your marketing messages contain lines that place people of certain age range, sex, religion, nationality, or race at a higher level than others, then you are crossing the bounds of ethical marketing.

10. Spamming

Spamming is when you send unsolicited emails to potential customers, encouraging them to buy your products or services. This is the commonest unethical marketing practice done online. The number of time you send such emails doesn’t matter. Whether you send them once, or on occasions, or frequently, you remain a spammer.