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Ethical Marketing Done Right: 10 Examples of Brands Thinking Differently

Ethical marketing might seem like a contradictory concept at first.

Indeed, many bright minds have studied the relationship between “doing the right thing” and making profits, often with a little consensus reached.

But it’s the opinion of consumers that really matters here.

More and more customers are choosing businesses dedicated to helping environmental and social causes. Brands that apply ethics to their marketing as well are winning customer trust. And, importantly, those who only pretend to be ethical may lose that trust forever.

In this article, you’ll learn about 10 businesses doing ethical marketing the right way.

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What is ethical marketing?

Ethical marketing involves companies focusing on how their products can be beneficial for their customers, society, and the environment.

Ethical marketing involves everything from ensuring that advertisements are ethically sound to building meaningful relationships with customers. Ethical marketing is a philosophy rather than a strategy, as companies consider ethical issues when making all business decisions.

Let’s see how businesses employ ethical marketing.

Ethical marketing examples

These companies give us great examples of ethical marketing as well as valuable tips and tactics for promotion.

1. Allbirds

“Newsflash: Your outfit is killing the planet.”

Kind of intense, right?

Yet, it’s one of the marketing slogans that Allbirds is sticking with.

This brand is shaking up the clothing industry with its unwavering commitment to eco-friendly production. Allbirds measures everything that contributes to its carbon footprint and even publishes sustainability reports.

Allbirds highlight their environment-friendly practices in their marketing strategy. They have built awareness of their innovative supply chain, which involves renewable materials, green energy, and regenerative agriculture.

The brand even advertises the carbon footprint of each product. Wool Dasher Mizzle shoes, for example, generate 12.9 kg of CO2 that is later compensated.

Allbirds carbon footprint
Source: Allbirds

Other notable recent marketing projects include:

  • Forest planting project with Berkeley School Forests
  • Collaboration with NFL star Marshawn Lynch to promote awareness of climate change in US schools
  • Advocating for sustainable agricultural practices by promoting The New Merino Company, an ethical wool company

The list goes on and on.

By using ethical marketing, Allbirds successfully sets itself apart from other businesses. Now, it’s almost impossible to find any marketing content where Allbirds doesn’t mention something related to sustainability or social causes.

Needless to say, Allbirds is a certified B Corporation (a title given to businesses with the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance and public transparency). Another big accomplishment that consumers appreciate.

Allbirds regenerative agriculture
Source: Allbirds

2. Patagonia

Talk to any environmental activist, and they’ll tell you one thing: the fashion industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change. It generates 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually—more than Germany, France, and the UK combined.

But businesses like Patagonia are changing the industry.

The brand’s philosophy is all about being green, so ethical marketing is a natural part of the strategy. Besides sharing awareness of environment-friendly practices, Patagonia also promotes anti-consumerism.

The “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign is a great example of this.

Instead of encouraging customers to buy more on Black Friday, Patagonia asked them to take a pledge to reduce consumption (see below). The campaign raised the awareness of the environmental impacts of consumerism in the industry and encouraged many to consider the effect of their purchases.

Patagonia responsible campaign
Source: Patagonia

Patagonia’s ethical marketing strategy extends to all their content.

The company’s blog is a treasure trove of inspiring social activism stories, clothing repair tips, and video stories of people protecting the environment.

This amazing illustrated guide from the Patagonia blog teaches people to “donate with dignity” by outlining tips for donating clothes. It’s a part of the brand’s mission to protect the environment and encourage recycling of fashion.

Patagonia cartoon
Source: Patagonia

But there’s one more huge aspect that makes Patagonia’s ethical marketing strategy brilliant: its own initiatives. With its “1% For The Planet” project, the brand has donated 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of natural environments—over $140 million so far.

The bottom line here?

Thanks to the focus on ethical marketing, Patagonia is now a thought leader in social activism, environmental protection, and eco-friendly practices. Plus, it generates an impressive $19.8 million in annual revenue.

3. Warby Parker

Do you wear prescription eyeglasses? I bet you’ve lost them at least once.

The same happened on a backpacking trip to Dave Gilboa, one of Warby Parker’s founders. Being a student, he couldn’t afford to buy a new pair. Needless to say, that semester wasn’t quite the experience he wanted.

Fast forward a few years—

Gilboa’s business disrupted the eyeglasses market by drastically lowering prices. The success is phenomenal, as the founders report a 38% annual revenue growth rate and two million active customers.

Warby Parker founders
Warby Parker’s founders, Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal. Image source: Yahoo

Gilboa’s frustration with the monopoly in the industry was the driving factor that set his brand on a different course from its competitors.

Unlike other players, Warby Parker:

  • Has lower prices for prescription eyeglasses
  • Practices ethical marketing with charity programs
  • Started a foundation to donate glasses to those in need

The last two points make this business one of the best examples of ethical marketing. Warby Parker put its social philanthropy at the center of its marketing.

Let’s take the “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” example.

This program makes customers agents of change. For each pair purchased, the brand donates one to charities through the Warby Parker Foundation. So far, over eight million glasses have been distributed in 50+ countries.

Warby Parker foundation
Source: Warby Parker

What makes Warby’s marketing strategy great is that every customer purchase makes a difference to the cause, and to the lives of the people it supports. That leads to emotional engagement, which is the strongest driver of loyalty.

For example, Warby Parker publishes an annual Impact Report to show how it is achieving its mission with the help of customers.

The report itself is a brilliant example of marketing that offers detailed info on everything from the company’s carbon footprint to the number of screenings and glasses distributed bits affiliated charity programs.

Here’s an extract offering an update on “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair.”

Warby Parker infographic
Source: Warby Parker

To sum up the biggest takeaways from this ethical marketing strategy: a) make customers a part of your social programs, and b) provide updates on your commitments with digestible and shareable reports.

Following this strategy is a great way to create marketing that resonates with like-minded consumers.

4. TOMS Shoes

“All it takes is your barefoot photo.”

In the One Day Without Shoes campaign, the brand aimed to spread awareness of the lack of footwear available to children in developing countries.

Anyone could participate by posting a photo of their bare feet on Instagram with the hashtag #WithoutShoes. The reward was more than worth it: one photo equaled the donation of one pair of shoes to a child in need.

Toms #withoutshoes campaign
Source: TOMS Shoes

The results of the campaign were amazing.

As many as 296,243 photos were shared, making One Day Without Shoes one of the most successful ethical marketing examples from social media.

The culmination was this post from TOMS announcing the results.

Toms #withoutshoes campaign Twitter
Source: TOMS Twitter

As far as ethical marketing is concerned, the One Day Without Shoes campaign was a big win for everyone.

On the one hand—

The donated shoes will help, as the children often have to walk barefoot for miles to get food or clean water. Also, this basic necessity prevents podoconiosis, a debilitating disease that affects 4 million people globally (and is preventable by wearing shoes from an early age).

On the other hand—

TOMS was able to raise lots of brand awareness, improve customer relationships, and lower marketing costs. The campaign was even cited in academic marketing journals as an example of successful value co-creation campaigns on social media.

And it all began with this campaign announcement video.

Source: TOMS Shoes

Want to engage more customers with social media marketing?

Here are Tips to Build an Email List with Social Media Marketing.

5. Faguo

When it comes to eco-friendly clothing brands, this one is the complete package.

French fashion retailer Faguo maintains its eco-friendly standard by:

  • Offsetting its carbon footprint
  • Reducing harmful emissions from production
  • Planting a tree for every item sold (2+ million so far)
  • Promoting reasonable consumerism by repairing products
  • Collecting and recycling second-hand pieces from customers

Faguo is clearly an ethical brand. That’s why ethical marketing is at the heart of Faguo’s strategy.

To further their mission, Faguo’s marketing content focuses on three areas: continuing customer education, activism, and accountability. Let’s see examples of them.

First, customer education.

Faguo helps customers make more conscious choices about the fashion they buy. They use production processes that minimize the impact on the environment and then they educate their customers about these processes. And why they’re important.

Customers can click links on product pages to find out more. This one, for example, leads to the page where the brand’s manufacturing process is described.

Faguo mission statement
Source: Faguo

Next, activism.

Faguo is involved in several initiatives. The brand promotes reduced consumerism, plants trees when purchases are made, and encourages recycling.

Example:

The Make Friday Green Again project is about spreading awareness of the environmental impact of huge sales.

Faguo - Make Friday Green Again
Source: Faguo

And finally, accountability.

Faguo takes its environmental responsibility seriously. The brand has maintained a carbon footprint report (PDF), which tracks the progress they’ve made towards achieving carbon neutral status.

Faguo isn’t in charge of measuring its own emissions, by the way. This is done by the Goodplanet Foundation, an independent authoritative body. Having a third party verify this adds credibility.

Customers also can learn how each aspect of Faguo’s operations contributes to the overall carbon footprint with website content like this:

Faguo's carbon footprint
Source: Faguo

Everything Faguo does ties back to its mission: become a carbon neutral business that takes an active part in fighting climate change along with its customers.

Tip for Businesses

The website is Faguo’s main source of sales and leads.
Thanks to a great lead generation strategy, the brand gets 2,000 new leads monthly. Replicate Faguo’s lead generation tactic: Faguo Case Study.  
Faguo spin-to-win

6. Pela Case

The world’s first sustainable, 100% compostable phone case.

This is Pela Case’s original product developed to fight environmental pollution caused by the plastic-heavy smartphone case industry.

Source: Pela Case

The brand is an example of using two ethical principles: promise keeping (a genuine intention to fulfill a goal) and integrity (being transparent with marketing).

The brand applies these principles by.

  • Offsetting their entire carbon footprint
  • Sharing all data about manufacturing, materials, and footprint
  • Donating one percent of sales to environmental organizations (see the full list)

The brand also constantly reinforces its mission in marketing. Let’s see a couple of campaign examples.

“Plastic-Free July” was an educational campaign that raised awareness of plastic pollution and ways everyone can reduce their footprint. This post was a part of the effort.

Pela Case Instagram
Source: Pela Case, Instagram

The next great ethical marketing example—

A campaign where the brand’s Instagram followers could win an eco-getaway and other weekly prizes. Here’s the announcement post with more details.

Pela Case giveaway
Source: Pela Case Instagram

Like other great ethical marketing examples above, this campaign was a win for the brand, its cause, and the customers.

Pela Case demonstrated a commitment to environmental activism and promoted sustainable travel with this campaign. By staying true to the ethical principles of marketing, the brand also generated lots of awareness and engagement.

7. Asphalte

Asphalte is another brand that is changing the fashion industry.

Alongside the mission to eliminate overproduction, the company constantly promotes reasonable consumption.

But what really sets Asphalte apart is the pre-order business model. The brand only makes items that customers choose, so there’s no excess inventory or overproduction.

Choosing items is easy: just rate clothing from zero to 10 in a product survey. The whole thing takes a minute—a small commitment for setting fashion trends.

Asphalte shirt
Source: Asphalte

To increase the longevity of products and reduce carbon footprint, Asphalte uses only quality, eco-friendly materials. Product care guides are also there to help reduce overconsumption.

The Winter Overshirt, for example, is made of 100% wool, so it needs specific care. Customers can get tips from the care guide and make the item last longer.

Asphalte care guide
Source: Asphalte

Overall, Asphalte serves as a solid example of ethical marketing in fashion. The brand’s marketing focuses on the pressing issues that plague the industry, helping to raise awareness of solutions and promote reasonable consumerism.

Allbirds, Faguo, and Asphalte have one thing in common: they are digitally native vertical brands (DNVBs).

Learn more: What is a DNVB?

8. Yes Straws

Guilt-free slurping.

That’s the promise of Yes Straws to their customers.

The brand is on a mission to reduce the number of plastic straws that could join the 8.3 billion already polluting the environment.

How?

With biodegradable straws made from 100% natural materials. Unlike its plastic cousin, it doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals and breaks down within weeks.

The family of products is made using wheat and cane stems.

Yes Straws
Source: Yes Straws

Needless to say—

The brand’s marketing is centered around a unique value: protecting the environment by choosing a harmless alternative to plastic.

Here’s how Yes Straws achieves its goals:

  • Has an almost zero-waste production
  • Uses innovative production methods, including an original technology to clean and sterilize wheat stems
  • Recycles waste from agricultural wheat harvesting

Another great thing about ethical marketing from Yes Straws is their content.

The business produces articles that raise awareness of the dangers of plastic and the benefits of harmless alternatives. This way Yes Straws helps customers realize that every small thing matters when it comes to reducing their environmental burden.

Yes Straws plastics guide
Source: Yes Straws

Yes Straws is another eco-friendly brand using popups. The brand gives a 10% off on biodegradable straws.

Yes Straws popup

Want to know how popups can help your business, too?

Check out these great articles:
Examples of Popups
Best Popup Software
Try Popups On Your Website [Free]  

9. Cusa Tea & Coffee

Healthy beverages are incredibly common and popular these days.

That’s good but … there’s a problem.

Tea bags contain plastic (even one bag can release up to 11.6 billion microplastic particles into the cup!). Even paper ones are sealed with plastic glue (non-biodegradable polypropylene). Most of that plastic, unfortunately, ends up polluting the environment.

That’s where Cusa wants to make a difference.

Cusa’s marketing strategy promotes environmentally responsible choices in several ways:

  • Support of environmental projects
  • Use of eco-friendly packaging materials
  • Exchange of used tea and coffee sticks for coupons

Terracycle, their exchange program, is an interesting example. Cusa promises free shipping and a $5 coupon for those who send them used tea and coffee sticks. By doing so, the business reduces food waste and encourages eco-friendly choices.

Cusa recycle program
Source: Cusa Tea & Coffee

To encourage more people to join the effort, Cusa also uses social media campaigns.

This one below, for example, challenges followers to guess how many tea pockets can fit in the so-called zero-waste box.

Cusa recycle program Instagram
Source: Cusa Tea & Coffee

The prize for the winner:

A free 30-serving pack of tea or coffee of their choice.

That’s a nice reward for a guess, agree?

Besides, the campaign is a great example of ethical marketing. The brand shows the commitment to recycling and shares awareness of environmentally-friendly practices.

Combined with a long-term strategy of education and activism, Cusa is a good example of how business can market their products while staying true to admirable missions.

10. Everlane

“Radical transparency.”

That’s Everlane’s motto when it comes to … well, everything.

The business even shares costs behind their products—from materials to transportation. For example, here’s the breakdown of the price for denim products.

Everlane manufacturing
Source: Everlane

Everlane is also committed to several important objectives.

As of December 2021, the company has completed 90% of its goal of eliminating all virgin plastic from the supply chain. Also, they’re pursuing several goals related to reducing emissions.

Everlane packaging
Source: Everlane

Another interesting element of Everlane’s ethical marketing strategy is sharing details about labor conditions. The brand’s website has a special Factories section where we can find info about their locations, materials and techniques used, as well as images of employees at work.

These images, for example, come from a Hanoi-based facility.

Everlane factory
Source: Everlane

Everlane really stands out on this list because of the willingness to disclose more information than others (especially production prices). It’s a huge step in the right direction, as far as ethical marketing is concerned.

Summary

Ethical marketing is important, and it works.

These examples show us that many businesses are having huge success applying ethical principles to marketing. This strategy helps them appeal to like-minded customers and contribute to society in meaningful ways.

Also, the examples show us that ethical businesses share several things in common: they care about the environment, their customers, and local communities. And, they help us learn how to make more conscious choices about the products we buy.

Caro Cooper

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