Avoiding unethical marketing tactics feels good and actually leads to better results.
Does marketing feel slimy to you? Do you feel like advertisers use unethical tactics to sell you yet another product you don’t need?
I get it because I used to feel this way too. But then I discovered that not all marketing is bad. In fact, using ethical marketing tactics actually sets you apart as a copywriter.
Ethical copywriting connects with your audience, which leads to better results. And if you’re promoting a brand you believe in, you’re using your skills to make a positive impact.
Why Ethical Marketing Practices Benefit Your Copywriting
You’re getting bombarded with advertisements all the time. The websites you browse have pop-ups all over – the promotion tab in your inbox has been full for months. Even your social media is serving you more sponsored posts than ever.
With so many ads reaching us each day, how can your copy stand out and get your audience’s attention?
Too many marketers focus on attention-grabbing tactics but forget the most critical piece: connection. Your audience is craving genuine, human, solutions-focused relationships. Ethical copywriting empathizes with their experiences and offers them positive benefits and solutions.
Ethical copywriters are conscious of the beliefs they’re evoking in their audiences.
Let’s say you’re promoting a product that helps with maintaining a healthy weight. Now, you’re probably familiar with the traditional narrative around weight loss and diet culture. Many ads compel people to diet and exercise based on their looks – which isn’t always healthy.
Instead of focusing on looks, you can describe how good you feel when eating well and exercising. You can help your audience aspire to feel like the best, most energized version of themselves. This instills the belief they should be healthy to feel well, not to look a certain way.
You can be proud of your copy that instills positive beliefs and shifts perspectives for the better. Plus, conscious copywriting stands out and establishes long-term credibility with your audience.
But the key to ethical marketing is to believe in the benefits of the product you’re selling & making sure you’re ending up in the right hands.
Be sure the product or service can actually positively impact your audience. If it does, you know you’re persuading the audience into a decision that can help them.
6 Unethical Marketing Practices and What to Do Instead
Advertisements that use unethical marketing tactics give copywriting and marketing a bad reputation. But the idea that all copywriting is bad is a total myth. There are plenty of conscious copywriters who are using their skills in a positive way.
These are six unethical marketing tactics to steer away from in your copy and what to do instead.
- Only Fear as Motivation. Using your audience’s fears and insecurities against them in a negative way. Fear-mongering may grab someone’s attention, but it doesn’t build a healthy, long-term relationship with the audience.
Example: “You’re never going to find “the one” if you’re going bald. Buy our product.”
Obviously this was a bit of an exaggeration, but examples similar to this are out there.
What to do instead: Lean into their desires and their dreams. How does the product make a transformation possible or ease their pain points? Help them imagine what their life would look like without those fears and insecurities.
Ethical Marketing Example: “Hair loss doesn’t have to take your confidence away. Imagine how it would feel to walk into a room feeling radiant & confident in yourself – your energy captivating everyone in the room.”
- Clickbait. When a headline or subject line overpromises and the content does not deliver. Or even worse, it misrepresents the information you find inside.
Example: “10 shocking food facts that make you NEVER want to eat again.”
What to do instead: Use a genuine headline that catches the audience’s interest or sparks their curiosity. It’s okay to get them curious about your content, just be sure the information is factual and that you deliver the value within the content.
Ethical Marketing Example: “Want to feel healthy, energized, and totally full? Here are 10 food facts to help you get there.”
- False Urgency. Compelling someone to make a decision with an urgency that isn’t real.
Example: A promotional email says you only have five days to claim a discount. On the sixth day, they extend the deal for another week. This somewhat common tactic isn’t entirely unethical, but it decreases your audience’s trust in what you say. They may be less likely to purchase during your next promotion.
What to do instead: Identify an ethical and honest reason for urgency. Offer them value in exchange for them taking action sooner.
Ethical Marketing Example: If you’re promoting an online course, offer a 24-hour bonus discount for enrolling. This instills urgency but also delivers massive value to the audience. Be sure to do what you say and offer the discount for only 24 hours.
- Keyword Stuffing. Creating online content solely to stuff it with SEO keywords to manipulate the Google algorithm.
What to do instead: Focus on providing genuine value and infuse keywords organically throughout the page. Google prioritizes high-quality content with organic keywords over spammy content. So, prioritizing quality actually improves your SEO.
- Using Jargon. Using complex words to try to make your offer sound more credible. This can backfire on you because if the audience doesn’t understand, they may not want to engage in your service or offering.
What to do instead: Write clear and concise copy. When done correctly, you can absolutely infuse personality and wittiness into your copy. Just remember to keep the focus on clear communication and the benefits of the product/ service you’re writing about.
- Buying an Email List. While it’s not illegal to buy an email list, you’re not supposed to send promotional emails to people who haven’t opted in. Sometimes, brands do it anyways – but it’s a quick way to lose the trust of your audience, not to mention when people mark your emails as spam, it can hurt your deliverability.
What to do instead: Grow an engaged following by offering value in exchange for their email. Continue to add value once they’ve subscribed. Genuine, helpful email marketing is an incredibly effective way to drive interest, sales, and loyalty.2
Copywriting is not just about instant clicks and conversion. While it’s true that the goal of direct-response copy is to compel action, remember that sales can be a long game. A fear-based marketing tactic may get attention at the moment, but you’ll quickly lose your audience’s trust and interest.
Eighty-five percent of customers need to do their own research before purchasing something. If they don’t buy right away, it doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. Ethical marketing and content build trust and customer loyalty that can eventually lead to a sale.1
Become an Ethical Copywriter
Want to work for brands you believe in and use your skills to compel people into a decision that makes a positive impact on their lives? Become a conscious copywriter.
My copywriting course, Write Your Way to Freedom, teaches you the psychology behind ethical copywriting. You learn the emotional triggers and factors that influence people’s decision-making.
Not only does this pull more results for your clients, but it also sets you apart as an ethical marketer.
To learn more, take my free online copywriting masterclass: How to Build a Lucrative Freelance Copywriting Career.
I’m on a mission to build the largest network of conscious copywriters, using their ethical marketing skills to make a positive impact on people’s lives. If this sounds like you, you’ll fit right in!
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