Ethics and marketing above the board

Online marketing for SEO is a competitive game and there’s plenty of ways to cheat the system and use some “black hat” techniques. It’s the easiest way to get rankings fast but it’s also the easiest way to get punished fast.

I’m happy that I work for an agency and we pride ourselves on acheiving results without cheating, everything is above board, our hat is white and there’s nothing dodgy. There are often times when it could be tempting to market products in a way that while above-board in terms of technicality, are a bit questionable in the ethics department.

For example..

We also have a pretty strong product, it’s infallible infact. But, when a competitors ecommerce software fails, or you here chatter and there’s forum buzz about how let down its customers are. How do you use that to your advantage without being unethical.

For example, back in the 1970s when Pintos had a nasty habit of bursting into flames in rear-end collisions, did GM start pushing adverts saying “Explosion-free cars” ?

Now, is it because it’s unethical or is it because it would make them look unethical. In a cynical world it’s easy to think that they wanted to. That up in the boardrooms the CEO’s were sitting down with their ad agencies looking at mock-ups of inflammable cars but realised how this would make them look in the eyes of the public.

There’s ways of doing both though. Take the recent collapse of Courts. Wasn’t it nice of all their competitors to offer discounts to those customers that had lost money in Courts orders? It certainly made them look good and there’s no doubt it helped shift a few sofas and beds.

In the same way that car buyers want a car that’s not going to combust on impact and sofa customers want a sofa, an online business will want an ecommerce software that doesn’t crash at that most vital of points, the checkout.

Well, as with all things in advertising and marketing, it comes down to the copy. There’s no way to name your competitors failings directly and remain ethical or appear so. That would be like a competitor announcing “Courts are so terrible and useless they can’t get your bed so we will.” It’s like the marketing equivalent of a House of Commons debate where nothing gets resolved – the Tories stand and point fingers, the Lib Dems bemoan and quibble but nobody has an answer. Accordingly nobody really attracts the vote. Or the custom.

So if your competitor has a none weak point, no matter how famously weak, you can’t point it out. What you can do, though, is point out that you have a strong point there instead and you aim the pitch to the argument. If you know that customers are going to be searching for a product and are aware of your competitors failings you build your products strength into the PPC ad.

This is what we did, along with a good PR campaign simply emphasising our strengths in key areas that we knew competitores were failing without nameing or even suggesting that others had issues.

I don’t think I could resort to outright finger-pointing in marketing anymore than I could use “black hat” techniques. It’s like using the cheat codes on your computer games – you finish quick but there’s no real sense of award or achievement. People in online marketing and SEO will know that joy from seeing your hard work pay off with first page ranking. That and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.

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