The Good, Bad and the Kind of Ugly

The Good, Bad and the Kind of Ugly

Online, where a bit is a bit, where no one knows whether you’re a dog or a cat, where a big company looks just like someone in their garage, sometimes the people who succeed are the ones acting the way we’d least like them to.

The online marketing world seems to have distilled itself into three main categories: the good, the bad, and the kind of ugly. Good marketers have jingles. They buy TV commercials. They tell the truth about what they sell and how they sell it. They offer a money-back guarantee and honor it. They belong to the better business bureau and to the Lions Club. They build long-term relationships with people and with organizations. They belong to associations. They go to trade shows and have big booths staffed with young go-getters. They offer a free bonus and clearly state what you have to do to earn it.

Lately, there have been a bunch of bad marketers in our lives as well. One firm offers to put your new product at the top of the sellers list, not by selling more, but by manipulating the system. Many websites manipulate the search engines to rank higher. Whole companies are organized around spamming people. Firms hire hoards of clickers in small, distant countries to boost their income or to punish their competitors. They say they are giving away something but are really harvesting names. There are rings of people who trade links to influence their rankings. Buildings full of hucksters work the eBay universe, just barely staying a step ahead of the system.

It’s a slippery slope. Is it okay to vote for your site a million times in an online poll? What about encouraging your readers to vote for you a million times? Digital systems have so much leverage that sooner or later, a line gets crossed. It’s just human nature to try to get ahead the best way we can. But it’s up to each one of us to draw the line at a spot that still keeps us on the side of good.

It’s impossible not to worry that it’s inevitable for the good and bad of the marketing worlds to mix. That brands we trust send out spam, but call it a legitimate use of their privacy policy. That they hide the results of this test or that ruling because the law permits it. Maybe their web team is under so much pressure to deliver results that just a little bit of black hat SEO feels just fine. It’s easy to shade your accounting and even easier to lie about your online presence.

In the end, we’re in charge of our own business integrity. Making the right kinds of choices in the end comes down to deciding what we — and our customers — can live with.

Where do YOU draw the line?