Ethical Marketing in the age of Big Data

When the application of Big Data has become a key component in business models, what are the implications of collecting and using online behaviour advertising and cloud computing in marketing field? Especially, what is marketer ethics in collecting data? 

Privacy and security concerns in the age of Big Data

Big Data is a hyper-personalized micro-segment consumer tool that enables the marketer to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. In the marketing context, Big Data plays a vital role in analyzing customers insight, cutting down marketing cost, reducing the time-consuming and helping customers make the right decision and more reasonable. Besides, by automatically harvesting customer data, which includes personal information such as address, phone number or health record, privacy and security in terms of big data is an important issue.

The latest Facebook scandal alerted the privacy and security concern in the age of Big Data. By harvesting users’ data such as their post interaction, pages they like or even scanning their messenger inbox,… Facebook create a Big Data of users’ behaviours, interest and voting orientation. Those data are delivered to entrepreneurs for the purpose of marketing. The Facebook’s privacy issue involved the collection of personally identifiable information of up to 87 million users. Even worse, the data was allegedly used to attempt to influence voters’ opinions on behalf of the politician who hired them.

Code of ethics in collecting data

In 2012, by harvesting and analyzing health record data of an America 15-year-old pregnant girl, the Target’s marketers reached the limitation of marketer’s ethics in collecting information. The company did breach Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of the USA which protects customers’ sensitive data. FTC urges companies to provide “reasonable security for any data they collect for behavioural advertising and to retain data only as long as it is needed to fulfil a legitimate business or law enforcement need”. (FTC, 2009)

Applying Target case in Australia, Target may breach ethics of marketing and advertising field. Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) which refers to “Direct marketing involves the use and disclosure of personal information to communicate directly with an individual to promote goods and services. A direct marketer may communicate with an individual through a variety of channels, including telephone, SMS, mail, email and online advertising”. (APPs, 2014)

According to The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), in the field of digital marketing, “when collecting or using personal data from individuals, care should be taken to respect and protect their privacy by complying with relevant legislation and the marketer’s own privacy policy” (AANA, Marketing in the digital space). (AANA, 2018)

The implications for the marketers

First of all, “the Marketer should develop a strategy for what data will be useful and how to use it” (Ackerman C, 2017). The use of Big Data requires many conservations within your organization to develop a strategy for what and how to utilize the harvested data. Failure to develop a strategy is not only fall fouls of the ethics of security and privacy but also the risk of time-consuming and money-wasting.

Secondly, the Marketer should “consider the ethical implication and responsibilities of utilizing some of this information and the reaction that may come from customers who were unaware this data has been shored” (Ackerman C, 2017).

Last but not least, the entrepreneur should determine what types of information align clearly with your company’s culture, values, and mission. “Only then should you look for and access third-party data that will help you drive powerful customer engagement and achieve other success metrics.” (Ackerman C, 2017)

In conclusion, although Big Data automatically harvest private data, the marketer is the one who chooses whether using those data or not. Ethical implications help the marketers to protect not only their reputations but also their company’s integrity and firm trust from customers.


Ackerman C, 2017, ‘The implication of Big Data Marketing Bigger than you think’,  West Monroe, 24 July 2017, viewed 25 April 2018, <;

Australian Association of National Advertiser, ‘Marketing in the digital space – Data protection and privacy‘, 2014, Australia

Australia Privacy Principle, ‘APP7 – Direct marketing’, February 2014, Australia

Bush V, Venable B and Bush A, 2000, ‘Ethics and Marketing on the Internet: Practitioners’ Perception of Societal, Industry and Company Concerns, Journal of Business Ethics’, p. 237-248, Netherland

Carole C., 2018, ‘Cambridge Analytica’s ruthless bid to sway the vote in Nigeria’, The Guardian, 22 March 2018, viewed 10 May 2018, <;

Confessore N., 2018, ‘Cambridge Analytica and Facebook: The Scandal and the Fallout so far’, The New York Times, 4 April 2018, viewed 10 May 2018, <;

Duhigg C., 2012, ‘How companies learn your secrets’, The New York Times, 16 February 2012, viewed 25 April 2018, <;

Federal Trade Commission, ‘FTC Staff Revises Online Behavioral Advertising Principle’,  Federal Trade Commission, 12 February 2009, USA, <;

Jain P., Gyanchandani M. & Khare Nilay, ‘Big data privacy: a technological perspective and review’, 26 November 2016, Computer science department, MANIT, Bhopal, India

Lubin G, 2012, ‘The incredible story of how Target exposed a teen girl’s pregnancy’, Business Insider, 17 February 2012, viewed 25 April 2018, <;

Nunan D & Di Domenico M., 2015, ‘Market research & Ethics of Big data’, p9-12, UK


Semiotic in Advertising

Greatest advertising goal is to create a bond within target audience and the restricting confines of a commercial ads. Semiotics is a solution for advertisers which promises to create the connotation between customers’ experience and the brand.

In nothing flat, there are a lot of brands using meaningful print ads to impress their target customers. It’s clear that the goal of branding ads is to drive sales by associating products and services to make customer’s experience and brand are virtually synonymous. I want to introduce you guys a successful print ad created by Olgivy.

The print ad is part of the “No More Abuse” campaign by the King Khalif Foundation, an official charity set up in memory of an earlier 1970s monarch. The purpose of this campaign was against domestic violence in Saudi Arabia. I would like to ‘read’ this print ad in 3 dimensions: its denotation, connotation and myth around it.

Firstly, the print ad illustrates a women in a niqab with a badly bruised eye staring into the camera attached with the message “some things can’t be covered”. The whole picture is covered by dark black except for the woman’s eyes.

In the connotation dimension, Fadi Saad, managing director of Memac Ogilvy in Riyadh had a comment on the print ad that: “The veil does not only hide women’s abuse, but it’s also a representation of the social veil behind which a lot of societal deficiencies hide”.

In another point of view, the print ad demonstrates the miserableness of Saudi Arabia’s women. The picture is covered by dark, it feel like there will be no way to escape and no hope for women’s right if we don’t take any action now. The suffering eyes contact can tell many things about women’s pain and strength. They get used to being abused but it doesn’t mean they do not try to fight for their right every single day.

In order to make this print ad more clarified, we should take a look at Saudi Arabia’s social situation. Saudi Arabia, a country which 16 to 50 percent wives suffer some kind of spusal abouse and its law does not criminalize domestic violence or spousal rape. Reporting about domestic violence somehow “may be seriously underreported”, according to the State Department report.

With predigous effort, the campaign has taking a big step in revoluting the authorities to support such a drive which given evolution in the country. There are many positive sign slowly appearing in Saudi Arabia. For instance, Saudi women competed in the Olympics for the first them or for the first time, King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the consultative Shura Council.

In conclusion, I belive that a meaningful print ad can change many thing in target customer’s belief, awareness or even action. The most important thing is how to create a print ad that is the bridge between the brand’s viewpoints and the target customer’s experience and belief.