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Our work: the ethics of performance marketing

The way in which we find and connect with new customers and clients here at Hattusia is a near constant source of discussion. Modern day marketing relies on many practices and platforms which do not respect people’s privacy, nor do the platforms uphold our values around human rights and democracy. However, as a business, we do need revenue in order to pay ourselves for the great work we do, and others for their services. For this revenue we need to market ourselves.

Marketing is a major obstacle for many businesses so we wanted to share how we go about ethical marketing in the hope this will inspire some of you, and hopefully get some critique and feedback on our choices and mechanisms.

The method

We teach that ethical judgement aligns with an ethical framework. So we want to make sure our marketing is inline with our political and ethical values. In addition to whether we are upholding these values, we ask ourselves whether the suppliers we work with and the services we use also uphold these values.

Hattusia is engaged in a full range of digital marketing practices but to ensure this article doesn’t get tooooo long, we’re just going to focus on how we created a performance marketing based strategy that is aligned with our political and social axioms.

Performance marketing is largely defined as the range of digital marketing activities in which an advertiser pays on completion of a specific action, whether this is a lead, a sale, a click, or others. Performance marketing has potential issues that can arise from its use; it’s heavily reliant on surveillance capitalism and tracking software, marketing funnels are also often associated with ideas of persuading individuals to purchase products they don’t really need.


Regardless of the means in which an individual has arrived on our website our website itself must remain a safe and privacy focused space. This has potential to limit the effectiveness of any performance marketing as it will limit behavioural targeting. However the effectiveness of behavioural targeting is debated. Maintaining a privacy focused website does mean:

  1. Cookies are minimal or non-existent.

  2. Analytics must be privacy focused (get in the sea Google Analytics). We use Fathom Analytics.

  3. Tracking pixels cannot be used.

  4. Any lead magnets used for basic data capture (emailing addresses or similar) must be warranted, must be optional, and must provide value to the individual for exchange of their information.


The ads that we run on these platforms must be as broad as possible in their targeting so as to avoid any incidental discrimination towards particular groups. We should also regularly assess our targeting to make sure it is representative of a full population and if we are not seeing fully representative targeting we can adjust our budgets to manually enforce this.

Performance marketing platforms

Even before starting our research it’s immediately clear that none of these platforms are going to be perfect and most rely heavily on core mechanisms that are used to perpetuate systems of surveillance capitalism. It’s also worth noting that it is almost impossible to exist in a digital space without interacting with platforms that contravene our social and moral axioms.


Google and surveillance capitalism

Google is the godfather of surveillance capitalism. This is a lovely read about the full extent to which the platform tracks your every waking move. Google analytics is present on 54.9% of all websites, Google Chrome has a market share of 69.28% and android operating systems have a 71.9% market share. Google has bought private banking data in secret, cut deals to track retail sales through mastercard, and was sued in 2017 for inappropriately accessing private medical data. Add this to the 241 other acquired companies including Youtube, FitBit, & Waze and Google has a pretty dominant slice of the data pie.

Google is actively trying to control users actions, this absolute transparency through subjugation to guaranteed outcomes is the hallmark of surveillance capitalism.

Shares data with advertisers ✔️ Tracks you throughout the web ✔️

Tracks you even when not logged in ✔️

Tracks your contacts ✔️

Overall score 💩

Google and our social and moral axioms

A photo of the google offices
Google offices, genocidal denial not pictured

Despite protests throughout their workforce they are actively involved in military contracts and their ad platforms have promoted genocide denial. They have tried to create censored search engines and paid extremists through ad revenue on youtube.

Overall score 💩💩


Facebook and surveillance capitalism

Facebook follows you, your friends, “other websites and services, into the various apps you're using on your phone, and to the places you physically visit in the real world”

Off-Facebook activity is also monitored whether or not you have a Facebook account. Tracking tools like the Facebook Pixels enable websites and online retailers to get information about their visitors, including whether they come back. There are also a large number of organisations and services that use facebook’s tracking technologies. On top of this Facebook buys information from data brokers about their users' offline lives. Online mis and disinformation poses a present and growing danger to our democracies and lives, an issue which Facebook has been permanently embroiled and yet consistently failed to address.

Shares data with advertisers ✔️ Tracks you throughout the web ✔️

Tracks you even when not logged in ✔️

Tracks your contacts ✔️

Overall score 💩

Facebook and our social and moral axioms

Facebook has refused to ban racist and violent content. It’s ad platforms have promoted genocide and is consistently considered a threat to democracy. The scandals Facebook was involved in in 2018 alone are damming.

Overall score 💩💩

Twitter Ads

Twitter and surveillance capitalism

Twitter uses the data to deliver better ads. "We use the information described in this Privacy Policy to help make our advertising more relevant to you,"[-cnet] While it's possible to opt out of so-called "interest-based advertising" in the personalization and data settings, Twitter qualified that "it won't remove you from advertisers' audiences." Twitter tracks users on websites through it’s embedded tweets and conversion tracking code snippets.

Twitter owns the data that it gives to advertisers for the sole purpose of better targeted ads. You can edit this data to reduce how and where Twitter tracks you as well as how the ads you are shown target you, for example: to opt out of interest best ad targeting.

Shares data with advertisers ✔️ Tracks you throughout the web ✔️

Tracks you even when not logged in ✔️

Tracks your contacts ✔️

Overall score 💩

Twitter and our social and moral axioms

Twitter has had trouble with undermining democracy however this has largely been a content moderation issue rather than anything to do with it’s ad platforms. Twitter, whilst still being pretty awful at content moderation, has blocked accounts and deplatformed users for contravening their policy against dehumanisation.

Score 😐

I need a lie down.


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Compromise in our ethical strategy

Hattusia exists in a society in which it is imperative to have a digital presence, existing in these digital spaces will always involve compromise. Our use of performance marketing platforms and ‘big tech’ is a constant point of discussion; it’s led to some truly innovative approaches to our client outreach outside of performance marketing and an approach to social media and brand development that we feel comfortable with.

Largely due to the information cited above, we don’t use Google or Facebook ad platforms. We consider both companies to have taken deliberate action that contravenes our social and moral axioms and most concerningly have been actively involved in genocide. There does not seem to be a way of running ads on their platforms in which we would not be a deliberate actor in surveillance capitalism. That being said we do use Google Suite products, although it is a particularly minimal spend it is giving money to an organisation we would prefer not to and we are constantly assessing alternatives to it.

The money we originally budgeted to spend on these platforms is being spent on content marketing and direct outreach; two areas where our marketing spend goes directly towards employing people. It has meant we’ve spent a lot of time perfecting a style of contacting organisations that regularly results in people praising our contact approach and thanking us for reaching out. We do spend money on Twitter advertising. This is largely driven by the idea that they haven’t actively been involved in genocide, which we’re well aware is a depressingly low bar for organisations to adhere to.

The money is spent almost exclusively on building the Hattusia audience. We don’t use any Twitter conversion tracking software on our website or allow Twitter cookies so information on our website audience isn’t added to Twitter’s data. By focusing our spend purely on the Twitter follower growth it means the ads we run never take the user off the Twitter platform. Viewers that engage with our ads therefore only ever have to be conscious of the level of data consent they have given the twitter platform and not any external services (such as ourselves) that they may be unaware of.

Performance marketing is a challenging task largely because of the platforms that offer it. Whilst I believe we have shown it is completely possible to run a fair, transparent, and profitable performance marketing campaign the platforms that we choose to engage with are limited. We completely support organisations that are comfortable using platforms that we aren’t and hope that even those who do engage more actively with these organisations are speaking publicly about the behaviour they object to.

Tech ethics is about striving for better. Assessing and reassessing the practices and tools we use to grow our businesses and our industry should be the priority.


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