Why Marketers Need Their Own Hippocratic Oath


It was well after midnight and I was still going back and forth with my product colleagues and corporate comms team over IM. I was staring at two different drafts of an email which we needed to send out in a few hours. The email informed our customers that we were deprecating a high profile feature. One draft was from my heart. The other was from the corporate comms machine. I paraphrase the two drafts below:

From the heart draft
“I’m disappointed to let you know that we have decided to no longer support feature x. I know you love the feature – frankly, we do too. We had to make a tough call between supporting this feature versus investing in some exciting new capabilities – we chose the latter. Several of our closest partners have stepped up to offer any ongoing support that you may need…"

Corporate comms draft
“Customer success is our highest priority. As a result, we continually invest in new product innovation. In order to better serve you we are turning over support of feature x to our certified partners…"

In the early hours of the morning, I relented and sent the sanitized comms draft. It sucked. I had just put a crap sandwich in the inboxes of some of our most loyal customers – and I knew it. The response was exactly what you’d expect. They were pissed. Not about the feature being deprecated but about the fact we were trying to pull one over on them instead of being honest and empathetic.

After that, I made a vow: I will not produce marketing that I personally wouldn’t want to receive.

According to this Harris Poll, physicians top the list of the most prestigious/respected professions in the country. We trust physicians with our health and safety and believe they will put our interests first. Physicians understand this. For 2,500 years, physicians have sworn the Hippocratic Oath which is a moral commitment to serve their patients the best way they know how.

Marketers aren’t on the list of the most respected professions. That’s because too many people in our profession resort to manipulation instead of marketing. Sure, anyone can steal your attention with sex on a billboard. Or pay to interrupt you. Or play upon human psychology to entice you to do something that isn’t in your best interest. All that works – in the short-term. Until it doesn’t. That is manipulation, not marketing.

Marketers have a moral obligation to build trust with their communities. Marketers build trust by creating marketing that is useful, delightful, and brings their communities together. The ones who do that will reap the rewards of customer loyalty. The marketers at Patagonia and Dove provide great examples of brilliant marketing:

Patagonia Better Than New Campaign
Patagonia's marketing is so good in so many ways but their Black Friday “Better Than New” campaign is particularly brilliant. They throw parties to reduce consumerism. I love it. And I still throw more money at them.


Dove Real Beauty Campaign
The fact that a company that sells white bars of soap can inspire us to reevaluate our perceptions of beauty demonstrates marketing’s potential to create positive change.


Decision makers and consumers rely on marketers to help them make educated decisions about products and services. Whether they know it or not they are trusting marketers with their time, money, and (in some cases) their careers. Maybe its time for us as marketers to take our own form of the Hippocratic Oath. Or perhaps the Golden Rule. I humbly offer "I won’t create marketing that I personally wouldn’t want to receive" as a start.