Ethical Advertising

  Jeroen Seynhaeve     2022-10-30

We choose to advertise ethically, by leaving it up to our target audiences to decide (and remain in control of) which personal data they wish to share with us. This allows us to build trusted, direct relationships and long-term value with your customers.

Advertising is all about persuading people – to induce, influence, and encourage people to act in a particular way or to accept a particular belief. While its purpose is often commercial – aimed at selling goods or promoting a brand – advertising techniques and tools may equally be used to raise awareness and incentivise ethical behaviour. In fact, the art of persuasion has been around for as long as people have socially interacted and cooperated with one another. It has been part and parcel of the toolbox of the salesman, pastor, prophet and politician for as long as we may remember, and is indispensable in the proper functioning of our democracies and free markets today.

However, new data-powered technologies have blown the lid off that toolbox, and allow advertisers to collect all kinds of intimate information about people, target messages at very specific audiences, and analyse their response in great detail.

Critics claim that this is an abuse of power, a digital divide. People need to be protected against advertising practices that no longer merely attempt to persuade us, but target our most intimate traits, desires and fears with analytical (some say surgical, or even military) precision, for purposes that are often hidden from us.

Relying on the right to (data) privacy to enforce this protection, advertising should therefore at all times be respectful of data privacy and security concerns, and focus on building trusted relationships with audiences based on first-party data.


Data privacy

In today’s technology-driven world, advertising can only be ethical if it respects its audiences as persons that are in control over which information they share about themselves.

In advertising, the ends do not justify the means — there aren’t any good ethical reasons to accept that the objectives of advertising can ever trump fundamental human rights, like privacy. But the means also do not justify the ends — the availability of technologies that enable easy access to personal data does not justify using them for the purpose of advertising, if this means that privacy rights are violated in the process.

People want brands they care about to build transparent and meaningful relationships with them. While they interact with digital products and services via a multitude of touch points and channels, people want control over how their data is used.

Today – moving towards a Web 3.0 – ethical digital advertising requires respect for data privacy and a focus on building long-term, consensual and trusted relationships with customers based on first-party data.

First-party data is information collected from consumers with direct consent – through interactions on apps and websites, and in response to marketing initiatives, like email and loyalty programmes. When used responsibly, first-party data allows brands build direct relationships with their customers, create value, and boost advertising performance.

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