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Decency: A New Meaning for an Old Word


I find myself using the word “decency” often when writing about marketing and communications. Somehow, I failed to consider the history and usual meaning of that term in the world of writing and media.

So, to be clear, I have no concerns about language, scatological references, or sexual content. I’m no prude. I’m not the FCC.

I do, however, care very deeply about the principle of human decency and the role it plays in marketing and communications. This principle often gets lost in the fray.

Human decency is a cluster of values. It includes integrity, honesty, kindness, respect, courtesy, and consideration for people. It implies treating human beings as having value for their own sake rather than as a means to an end.

When applied to marketing and communications, the concept of decency means treating people with a deep conviction that their time and their attention have value. It means showing a courteous restraint. It means respecting that time and attention are not just finite resources; they are irreplaceable resources.

People can usually earn more money, but once you take their time and attention, they can’t get them back. Decency means working within a dynamic of gaining permission, building trust, offering value.

Part of why I commit so deeply to thought leadership as a content strategy is that it gives people knowledge and insight in exchange for the time you have taken from them, the attention you have directed to your brand, services, and products.

Done well, thought leadership earns its place in your audience’s time and attention. People in your audience want to hear what you have to say, they trust your words and thinking, and their time is well spent in interacting with what you’ve offered them.

More marketing should work like this. I appeal to decency because I want marketers to think carefully about the resources of time and attention they use to carry out their work instead of engaging in blind resource extraction and thoughtless pollution.

Decency in marketing is not just about getting better results. It’s about caring for people in their full humanity.

Like it or not, marketing is a significant part of our cultural environment — intellectually, emotionally, even spiritually. The cultural air that we breathe is media. Taking moral responsibility for our emissions into that cultural air would go a long way towards establishing a more peaceful and sustainable world.

It just takes decency to see it that way.

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