How Magnetic Is The Moral Compass Of Your Brand?

Every individual has a moral compass that defines who we are and what we stand for. Our value system shapes our interaction with society at large – that includes brands. Every successful brand has a distinctive persona. 

In the era of cancel culture, a simple tweet could send your brand spiraling down. Here are just a few brands that were #cancelled from this year: 

Great brands understand there can be no compromise. The hashtag will not trend forever but, building back the trust is near impossible.

9 Principles – Ethics in Advertising

Ethics is a system of moral principles influenced by religions, philosophies, and cultures. The term is derived from the Greek word “ethos,” which can mean custom or character. In the real world, it is not always clear what is right or wrong.

While what is right or wrong is often debated, the principle of ethics set for a group of professional bodies or industry cohorts tends to provide a framework for acceptable behavior.

The American Advertising Federation has prescribed 9 principles of ethics for advertising, public relations, and all marketing communications professionals.

Truth and trust 

If your brand isn’t clear and authentic, consumers will find your information elsewhere and it may not be the accurate version. Truth and trust are key to forming a long-lasting brand relationship.

One clear example was the emissions scandal of Volkswagen, the German carmaker. The scandal had cost the brand €33.3 billion in fines and settlements, and an estimated loss of another US$10 billion in brand value since the emissions scandal emerged, according to Brand Finance

Transparency and respect

Data is the new oil. It has become integral to the process of targeting and delivering brand communications. Recent development shows that the way data is collected and used has played a large part in reducing people’s trust in online advertising. 

In 2019, Facebook was charged with discrimination by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for unlawfully discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face,” said Ben Carson, the HUD Secretary in an open statement.

Data tells the story of our lives. While everybody enjoys personalized recommendations, nobody likes to be watched or discriminated against. In the new era of consent and request for stricter privacy laws, marketers should work to improve lives, not manipulate them.

The World Federation of Advertisers has an online data transparency manifesto in a bid to increase industry respect for personal data and build consumer trust in online advertising.


Advertisers should follow federal, state, and local advertising laws, and cooperate with industry self-regulatory programs for the resolution of advertising practices. 

The reality is that some things that are technically legal may not be unethical. Brands have financial and reputational consequences. And if done correctly, Brands benefit positively, proven by the surge in advertising that embraces social issues.

Brands benefit from stories of impact-orientation by making consumers feel good about their purchase due to the brand promise that is benefiting a social cause. Take, for instance, 1 pack = 1 Vaccine by UNICEF and Pampers.


Advertisers have an obligation to treat consumers fairly based on the nature of the audience to whom the ads are directed and the nature of the product or service advertised.

This covers many aspects of what we regard as a fair society, which includes inclusiveness, cultural sensitivity, and celebrating diversity. 

Harris Interactive, a market research firm in New York, found that 35% of consumers will not buy if their ads are culturally insensitive. Do brands that create insensitive ads intentionally for clout know that it will permanently damage their brands? 

We believe brands are not deliberately trying to be insensitive. Lack of diversity within the teams and agencies could be a big factor in spotting these cultural nuances. With the right partner to explain the cultural nuances, marketing campaigns that leverage diversity can push the envelope for your brand. 

As a partner, FrontAd represents and speaks for brands and their ideas. As a representative of the brand, we work closely to ensure that every idea is culturally sensitive and ethically sound.

Let’s say you want to market your brand to the South Asian audience in the USA, the fastest-growing, and the most affluent consumer segment. And if your mood board has Appu, the corner store character from the Simpsons, we would not only be happy to tell you it will not be a “Thank you, come again,” response from your consumer group but also guide you toward a relevant and measurable campaign.

Stereotypes and sensitive content are some of the impediments that marketing agencies need to understand and avoid. While the appetite and conjecture of the audiences have evolved drastically, a deep understanding of what is acceptable and what’s not for the specific audience is not just ethical but drives conversions.


In 2016, a successful FinTech company, TransferWise was reprimanded by the advertising regulator in the United Kingdom for misleading its consumers. As shown in the image below, TransferWise had claimed that you could save up to 90% on your money transfers.  

The regulators ruled that the commercial claim of 90% could not be substantiated. TransferWise is one of the cheapest ways to send money but the messaging was misleading. Advertisers must exercise the highest personal ethics in sharing commercial information to consumers.

Even when brands can get away from the regulators and other watchdogs, consumers will call you out.


The intention of every piece of messaging should be clear and any conflict of interest should be communicated.

News and communications disseminated to an audience alongside marketing stories without a clear demarcation are unethical as some of the marketing stories may pass as actual news with actual credibility. This communication needs to be forwarded to an audience before they form an opinion.

For instance, let’s take the example of CompareRemit, a leading money transfer comparison platform. CompareRemit has editorials that cover a range of topics from taxation to guide to saving money on transfer fees. If any of their editorial content has been sponsored by a brand, in this case, by Xoom, they include a disclaimer as shown below.

An advertorial should be differentiated from editorial content. Successful brands understand this. They have established corporate values and moral standards that are part of the fabric of their organizations.


Advertisers should disclose all material conditions, such as payment or receipt of a free product that affects endorsements in all channels, as well as the identity of endorsers. 

Digital platforms have seen tremendous growth and regulatory bodies are slow in catching with the trend. Many brands have come under fire for not adequately disclosing the terms of a sponsored or paid campaign. Nobody likes to feel tricked or deceived into thinking the paid-for content is organic for instance. Unauthentic content diminishes trust.

Let’s take the example of YouTube and the early period of influencer marketing. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint against Warner Bros. in 2016 for inadequate disclosure in the marketing campaign of the video game called Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor in association with the controversial YouTube influencer PewDiePie.

The argument was that the FTC had not released disclosure guidelines for YouTubers at the time of release.

Like in most cases, brands will reach the audience much before guidelines reach the brands. In such a case, what do you do? 

Brands must let their moral compasses guide their decisions. Doing well by doing good is good for the brand. As marketers, you have the power to change how people live, eat, think, and aspire. That comes with a great responsibility to do the right thing. When in doubt, follow the principles.