The automobile industry has traditionally been viewed as a hard-edged if not cynical business where buyer and seller both looked out for their own interests without being too concerned about fairness or honesty. Now that the average person has the ability to research a dealer online before buying and leave a review for other consumers afterward, this approach is becoming outdated.

Buyer Beware

When a car dealer thinks of the sales process as a competition between two people with opposed interests, "buyer beware" is the natural result. The customer will try to drive a hard bargain and get the best deal he can even if the dealer has to take a loss, and the dealer will do the same. It's still possible to make a profit with this approach, but it leaves both parties to the transaction feeling suspicious and hostile. This is a bad model for earning repeat business and establishing a long-term business relationship.

Covenant Marketing

A covenant is a solemn commitment based on a relationship between two people who respect each other and look out for each others' best interests. When a car dealer approaches marketing from this perspective, "buyer beware" is no longer a factor. The dealer treats every customer with respect and honesty, sells every customer the right car at the right price and services it when needed without taking advantage. The customer remains loyal to the dealer when she needs a new car, because she knows she can trust the dealer to treat her as she wants to be treated. Covenant marketing also earns good word-of-mouth and good reviews online, all of which drives more business to the dealership.


Ethical marketing includes not only the sales process but advertising as well. There are two main aspects to ethical advertising. First, an ethical ad should be factually truthful. Most ads are factually truthful because an outright untruth could get the company in trouble, but most ads only include the facts that put the product in the best possible light. To be considered ethical, an ad must not leave out any facts that would be essential to the consumer.The second aspect to consider is whether the ad uses imagery that demeans or objectifies people to sell the product. Car advertisers traditionally did not concern themselves with that sort of question, but consumers are increasingly sensitive to it.


At any dealership employing multiple people including sales staff, managers and service technicians, it can be difficult for an owner committed to ethical marketing to know whether all the employees feel the same way. Don Flow, the CEO of Flow Automotive, discussed this issue in an interview with "" According to Flow, employees who openly reject the ethical approach must be let go. Those who reluctantly accept it should be given a chance to change. Those who embrace it only because it's expected of them should be kept on, but not promoted to leadership roles. Only those who truly believe in ethical marketing should be placed in positions of responsibility.