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How to Do Ethical Marketing Through Engaging Storytelling

  • Carolin ZeitlerCarolin Zeitler

Does it feel like your marketing won’t be effective unless you lie, exaggerate, or make false promises?

Do you want to use scarcity but don’t want to be pushy?

Do you want to sell more, but are worried it will erode your audience’s trust?

Do you want to be honest and straightforward yet effective in your marketing?

Does ethical marketing even work?

Yes, it does. I’ll show you how.

Ethical marketing involves engaging your audience by telling a story. It’s about standing out by providing content that’s relevant to your audience.

When you add value and speak your truth, you can feel good about your marketing.

Many entrepreneurs, especially those who are social and creative or artistic, view marketing and sales as a necessary evil: they know they need to do it but they don’t enjoy it and might even feel it’s sleazy.

I used to feel the same until I realized how often I failed to find out about events I would have liked to attend or opportunities that would have been useful to me in good time… because they hadn’t been marketed well.

I asked around and, to my dismay, found that many people were frustrated with my organization for missing one of our events, because our information had not reached them in time.

That’s when I decided to change things.

I still felt a lot of the typical marketing “tricks of the trade” were unethical (or just plain annoying). But now I was bent on finding a way to market effectively while retaining my integrity.

After several years of experimentation, trial and error, and a few successes, I’ve discovered what elements make a good and ethical marketing campaign.

Here they are:

1. Follow Your Instincts

A lot of the time I felt pressured into doing things I didn’t want to do because a marketing expert assured me that it was “the way to do it.”

One such example was giving a discount on tickets for the last few days of ticket sales. I went against my gut feeling and found that the people who had bought their tickets early, not surprisingly, were angry because they felt penalized for committing early, when in fact, they should be rewarded.

Other examples include submitting standard press releases or designing adverts in a common format.

I found that when I submitted press releases that showcased our character, chose brand colors that diverged from the standard blue and red, or designed adverts to surprise people, the rate of engagement was higher. Besides, I had more fun.

Below are examples of two ads/flyers for our events. When people were leafing through a magazine, they would stop and want to know what it was about. It looked different from all the other ads, so we got more reactions.

Our volunteers also loved handing them out because they always got positive feedback. Shop owners were more likely to put up the posters because they thought they were funny or aesthetically pleasing. People shared the images on social media for the same reasons.

So we got a lot more bang for our buck with these non-conformist campaigns:

Event flyer for women's career event

Colorful flyer for women's career event

2. Let Your Core Values Guide You

My compass is made up of our core values, the mission of the initiative and, of course, what our target audience will enjoy and find engaging.

If one of your core values is innovation, then the ad needs to be fresh. If one of your core values is to “add value with every interaction” (as was one of ours), then you need to add value even with your advertising. You can do that by providing nuggets of information or inspiration as your advertisement–free content is usually popular.

Alternatively, you can provide entertainment, a diversion from the everyday rut. We greatly enjoyed staging two flash mobs as part of our marketing campaigns, as well as creating inspiring women’s stories in the form of articles and video. Watch one of the promotional videos we created for the conference on How Women Work:

Part of marketing with authenticity requires us to move away from the typical stock photos. Many sites offer unusual pictures, some of them are searchable, others are not.

The one in the screenshot below is from imcreator.

To find the right image, think of different ways to express what you want to say. If your image is about successfully communicating with another person, you could use the following keywords: “connection,” “bridge,” “information/data transfer,” “understanding,” “sharing,” etc., depending on the context. Use one of those keywords for your search, rather than just “communication,” to find more unusual pictures.

You can also think along the lines of idiomatic expressions like “the penny dropped,” although they only work with native speaker audiences, so it depends on your intended audience.

Stock photos of different women


3. Tell One Story Across All Platforms

To keep your campaign cohesive, decide on one theme and one story across all platforms. Every time your audience comes across any part of that campaign on any platform, they should immediately be able to recognize it as part of one campaign.

For example, the theme of our sixth annual conference was “Be the change.” So we ran a six-month campaign built around pioneering women: telling their stories in videos on YouTube, which we then posted on social media as well as articles in magazines, and on our blog.

We also asked our audience to nominate on Facebook the pioneering women they admired and to tell us how and where they had shown pioneering spirit themselves. Our pioneering women included Olympic medalist Liz McColgan, Dana Al-Anzy, the first Qatari woman to ever reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, as well as various female local business pioneers.

Here are some images from that campaign:

Video of Olympic medalist Liz McColgan

Magazine article about businesswoman and coach Carolin Zeitler

Picture of Fatima Sultan Al Kuwari wearing black jacket and hijab

Video of Lauren Fryer, Managing Partner of Qanect

Dana Al-Anzy, the first Qatari woman to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro

For Qatar National, Day we created a video about pioneering Qatari women. For National Sports Day, we told the story of pioneering female athletes. Even our fringe event carried the theme, “Be the change,” as we invited the “No-excuses lady”, Esther Jacobs, author of What Is Your Excuse?, to tell us how to get started on a project rather than keep procrastinating.

Once inspired by the theme of your campaign, it becomes easy to keep delivering your message in interesting, informative, and consistent ways. The variety of media at your disposal these days allows you to create audio, video, visual, and written content, to engage the audience in quizzes and interactive content, and to even let them create content themselves.

4. Multiply and Engage

Finally, make sure you reuse content wisely and engage influencers who can multiply your message. It can seem tedious to reuse the same content but, in reality, it won’t reach the majority of your target audience if you only publish it once. Just check your engagement stats.

I have found that consistently sticking to one theme for at least one whole season and reusing the content in different formats (e.g., posts, articles, blogs, videos) helps your audience understand who you are and what you stand for. That, in turn, makes it easier for them to engage, as certain incidences will automatically make them think of you, prompting them to share a picture or a story.

So reusing your content is not only a time-saver but also helps your audience to engage with you. It also helps influencers to decide whether they want to be part of what you do. After all, they need to know what they’re going to stand for.

Telling your story and sharing your message has the power to inspire passionate entrepreneurs. We love talking about our business, don’t we? So why not use that to generate more buzz and, ultimately, income?

So start now: Craft your story and enjoy rolling out an ethical marketing campaign.

What ideas did this post spark for you? What’s the story that you’d like to tell across your platforms?

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5 thoughts on How to Do Ethical Marketing Through Engaging Storytelling


Thanks so much for this post. I think that these are really excellent tips for ethical marketing! Having a strong message that relates to your core values throughout the whole campaign is so important. I wonder if neuromarketing tools could provide even more insight into how people respond to these types of campaigns.

Amar kumar

Hey Carolin,

The Internet is a huge resource, and trying to cut through all that information can be overwhelming. Stories often can present information in a way standard marketing documents can’t. A story stands out because it’s something different – it’s not an ad, or an offer, or news, or a press release, and it’s not asking readers to do anything. It’s just something to read that looks compelling.

Stories illustrate who you are as a company leader, and what your company represents, without having to say so. Storytelling presents your ethics, passions and perspectives better than a mission statement can because it demonstrates those attributes. Eventually, thanks for revealing a light on this topic.

With best wishes,

Amar kumar


Absolutely, Amar, I agree. Thanks for your comment!


Great post Carolin!

I really loved the video showcasing your team’s sense of humor and unique style. Thanks for the tips!



Thanks Lizzie, glad you liked it!

Comments are closed.