value chain

The Ethical Value Chain & how it works – Ethical Marketing Part 5

 So where did you land on the Hitler question from our last blog? Never mind that (and apologies if you clicked through wanting an answer, you crazy person, as that was simply a device to demonstrate the extremely grey area of  so-called ethical marketing). 

Rather, let’s continue with exploring ethical marketing by focusing on the ethical value chain.

A value chain is about what gets passed along from the first link (making the thing) to the last (using the thing). 

So how does an ethical value chain work?

In a simple transactional manner, the ethics behind certain industries are very clear – Boeing will never be ethical while they’re still constructing their AH-64 Apache twin-turboshaft attack helicopter, which is designed to maim and kill, and is employed indiscriminately by myriad imperial war machines. Evidently not an ethical example.

But let’s ignore the obvious baddies who profiteer from militarism, gambling, exploitation and so forth.

To keep things simple, let’s focus on the five most prominent aspects of a value chain which can most typically be tracked.

• The seller of the product
• The buyer of the product
• The economy in which the item is produced and sold
• The environment which enables production
• The society in which the product is bought and sold

Our BUD framework approach from Ethical Marketing Part 3 makes this easy when we apply it to some actual real-life examples. I’m going to take personal responsibility here and discuss actual marketing jobs and clients (without mentioning them by name because of the Data part of BUD – it’s not mine to leverage):

Client 1 – Social Shop: A social enterprise shop which sells environmentally friendly sustainably produced products staffed by people with barriers to employment.

Client 2 – Sustain Co: An alcohol distilling company with a focus on end-to-end closed loop sustainable production and accountability.

Client 3 – Moto Tour: a motorcycle tourism company selling premium quality end-to-end global trips for customers.

Bud – B is for Behaviour

  • Behaviour – is the outcome you’re looking to influence something which will affect the individual you’re marketing to in a positive, neutral or negative way?

Behaviour is the easy part of the BUD framework – here’s our real life examples:

Client 1: Social Shop. The “value chain” continues to give back all the way down the chain as far as we can possibly see. It’s a win for the business (who sells good product), for the customer (who buys good product), for the environment (which doesn’t suffer), for the economy (which sees dollars flow) and for society (which benefits from jobs for people who are typically forgotten). Simply pure ethical behaviour.

Client 2: Sustain Co. The “value chain” sees a win for the business, the customer, the environment and the economy – what about society, though? This is where personal ethics come into it, ethics vs morals – I personally believe in “all things in moderation”. While alcohol is not good for everybody (this may also impact the customer part of the chain), I also believe in personal liberty and do not advocate for a paternalistic social approach to legality or availability of substances (in terms of responsible adult availability, obviously).

Client 3: Moto Tour. The “value chain” works out well here for the business and the customer – it’s a high-end luxury product, only available to those who can afford it. The economy? That’s where things start getting tricky – likewise, the environment and society. This business operates all over the world, across many economies and societies. This necessitates long-distance transportation and the use of non-renewable resources. It interacts with a variety of economies and societies.

To really arrive at a strong personal ethic on this, you need to think quite deeply about your ethics values and power as an individual and whether you wish to participate in a globalised economy of tourism which is often very energy intensive in terms of fossil fuels. Personally, I don’t pick fights I can’t win, and so I try to adhere to my ethics values and offset my personal carbon footprint with other decisions, but the fact is that if you want to travel overseas (or consume goods which are produced overseas), you’ll have to make peace with the fact that we’re mortgaging the future of our planet against its health, through the use of non-renewable resources. This is a decision I’ve made and I own it, but you have to make your own decision.

In regard to economy and society, there are myriad considerations of ethics responsibility – rather than turning this into an essay, I’m choosing to focus on the unusual routes and concerted “social good focus” around how this company does a lot to put cash into local economies and communities through the contractors they employ, the food and accommodation providers they select, and various other ways in which they seek to be a force for good rather than simply profit.   

bUd – U is for Universal considerations

  • Universal considerations – is the outcome you’re looking to influence good for people, society, for the planet? Does it flow on in a positive way, or where does the buck stop?


Client 1: Social Shop. This ethical company is as good as it gets – across every category, they’re adding value. Only the most curmudgeonly of hardcore anarchists (and I know a lot of anarchic hardcore curmudgeons) would be able to find issue here, and they’d probably be pointing their grubby fingers at systemic capitalism and unequal labour relations as a rotten framework. Otherwise, this kind of a business can be considered deeply ethical: people, environment, society and the planet all benefit.

Client 2: Sustain Co. Let’s tick off the easy one first: the planet. This company are on a genuine course of continuous improvement, and they’re pursuing multiple innovations along the way. They’re absolutely creating positive change in this industry. What about people and society? This comes down to what you personally consider ethical – namely, alcohol as a substance. Regardless of my Irish heritage, I have a universal perspective on substances and vices, which is borrowed from my fellow Irishman Oscar Wilde – “Everything in moderation, including moderation”. That said, I have spoken previously about the ethical implications of marketing management and using Data to target people in relation to alcohol – more on that below. The same goes for society; I wholeheartedly believe that alcohol is THE most dangerous and destructive drug out there. Should it be banned? Absolutely not; I do not believe in paternalism – I believe in education and harm reduction in line with the Portuguese Model. Hence, in my book, marketing this business is ethical.  

Client 3: Moto Tour. This is the hardest one. The easy part is around people and society – this business goes to great lengths to ensure as equitable as possible a use of funds, supporting local initiatives wherever they go, making donations to schools and patronising hospitality venues and suppliers. They are absolutely head and shoulders above the competition – and this is a crucial point. When do you make your boundaries somewhat more porous? For me, it’s when a company is genuinely attempting to improve an industry or apply an ethical mindset to an unethical venture. How so? If a company is meeting ethical questions and marketing needs head on and attempting to mitigate its impact, and we can confirm that this goes beyond cynical brainwashing/greenwashing, then we may consider them to be acting in an ethical manner. So, is it possible for a business to be considered amongst the list of ethical companies when they’re based on fossil fuels with a large ecological footprint due to shipping people, gear and machinery all over the world? My viewpoint comes from a perspective of realpolitik. In concrete terms, this means that I believe people are going to purchase and finance product like this regardless of their ecological impact – therefore, it is imperative to heighten the impact and profile of those with a positive focus on people, society and planet. Like I said back in Part 3, these questions are simple, but not easy.

buD – D is for Data

  • Data – is the person you’re marketing to aware that their data is being used in order for you to target them? If they truly were, would they consent?

Ooh! Here’s where it gets nasty. Let’s dive in:

Client 1: Social Shop. We’re not doing anything which targets prospective customers other than simple basic digital marketing – which, I must warn you, nowadays is strategic marketing that has a base level which “creepy” doesn’t even begin to describe. But that’s the state of the playing field these days – if this is of interest or concern, I’d urge you to read Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism which provides crucial insight into how far down this dark path we’ve been led by Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft et al. But I digress once again – we don’t use any of these marketing approaches with this client. Full disclosure – I would use them in this case, as it comes back to ethics and intent. Everything about this business is going in the right direction, and the ethical basis provides me with a watertight mandate to inform, educate and basically SELL SELL SELL to anybody who has an interest in these kind of products. Would the people we’re marketing to consent? I’m wagering “yes”, and I’m literally staking my business and reputation on it.

Client 2: Sustain Co. Things get more complex when we’re talking about substances, with alcohol being the most commonly consumed drug with the highest levels of harm in Australia. Ban it! Well no, not quite; “all things in moderation”. I’m certain I’m not the only person who can be influenced by those around them – Wednesday night, you’re having a drink? Go on then, why not. Oh, you’re actually just going to have a cup of tea? Yeah okay then, I’ll have the same. People are very easily influenced by what’s happening around them – including advertising, especially strategic advertising. In this day and age, it’s very easy to target people who are open / amenable / vulnerable (take your pick) when it comes to alcohol. Take a look at our Craft Beer Barry Scenario in this blog for how we could target somebody if we wanted to. Do we? No – because when you ask yourself is it right and good, the answer is clear. This is an unethical type of marketing strategy. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. Coming back to “is the person you’re marketing to aware that their data is being used in order for you to target them? If they truly were, would they consent?” I would say that if they were in a healthy state-of-mind, they would probably prefer to make their own independent choice about whether or not to consume alcohol, as opposed to being pushed towards it.

Client 3: Moto Tour. This is easy – I’m one of those people who actually likes targeted advertising. “Oh hello data/cookies/affinity group targeting, yes I was thinking about going on holiday, yes I have been forgetting to book before it’s too late, yes the kids are driving me up the wall, yes we do all need to get away”: *click*, *buy*, *smile*. These are luxury products which require a lot of consideration before purchasing. Do I want my data used to suggest an awesome experience to me? Honestly, yes. I would confidently say the same applies to the people we’re marketing to. All good.

Okay, well obviously I’ve cherry-picked these examples from amongst our clients, but what about some other real world examples. What if Uber called me up looking for a bit of marketing?

The answer to that question might take a bit of exploration… which is exactly what we’ll do in the final part of this series, Ethical Marketing Part 6: Ethical Marketing & Uber – “Are We The Baddies?

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