Manipulative Marketing | 3 Digital Marketing Tactics to Avoid

by Michelle Nessman | March 12, 2018 | Marketing

Skull and crossbones in email showing one of the manipulative tactics used in digital and email marketing

If you’ve spent more than 30 minutes online shopping, you’ve probably seen a pop-up that prompts you to enter your email address for updates, an eNewsletter, or other offers. You try to click out of this message, and, next to the “Yes, Sign Me Up!” button, you see:

“No, I don’t want to save money.”

Now, I’m from Minnesota where, in some cases, “Minnesota Nice” is a covert way of saying someone’s passive-aggressive.  I’ve never viewed passive-aggression as a positive characteristic (and hopefully neither have you), so, it leaves me wondering why marketers would think this to be even remotely effective. There is nothing that has come to bother me more than seeing this passive-aggression leaking into digital marketing through CTAs, blogs, and emails. If there’s one thing I can tell you it’s that all you’re doing using passive-aggressive language in the attempt to change a prospect’s mind is leaving a sour taste in their mouth and, sometimes, a desire to never return.

We don’t want that, and your prospects don’t either. Here are 3 examples of manipulative digital marketing and how to correct them.

  1. Passive aggressive opt-out languagePassive Aggressive opt out language in digital marketing

We touched on what this looks like above. Is passive-aggression really the first impression you want to leave? They haven’t even been able to gauge whether you provide relevant, helpful content, let alone determine if they want you in their inbox every week.

The solution is simple. Just provide a ‘No, thank you’ or ‘close’ option in your CTA. If you’re using Hubspot’s Lead Flows, you can choose to show a dismissed lead-flow again after a certain period of time has elapsed. Your prospects can determine if your content is what they need, you’ll maintain respect, and ultimately gain higher quality leads.

  1. Misleading subject lines

A shocking amount of marketers entirely miss the mark by starting off an email interaction with subject lines like “Sorry I missed our meeting!” or “RE: Currently in Office.” An email that implies you have an ongoing relationship or conversation may boost your open rates, but trust in your brand and click-through-rates are going to plummet.

I’ll be blunt: If you are trying to weasel your prospects into engaging with material because your content isn’t interesting or appealing enough, make better content.

When crafting a good subject line, focus on what your leads want and need from your content. If you’ve found yourself in a lead’s inbox, they’ve already found your content helpful and relevant and you can likely provide more. Build your subject lines around the questions your leads have and the answers you provide with your content.

  1. Obscured Unsubscribe Links

While it might be a good idea at first glance (“We’ll have a really high subscriber count if they can’t unsubscribe!”) the truth is you’re setting yourself up to fail. When recipients of emails can’t easily unsubscribe, they will likely flag further email communications as spam. Example of manipulative CAN-SPAM unsubscribe in digital email marketing

No marketer enjoys having their emails marked as spam, especially since it can impact deliverability in the future. Despite this, nearly a quarter of retailer emails in 2017 didn’t have “clear and conspicuous” unsubscribe buttons. If you’re not familiar with CAN-SPAM, the hefty law that makes the rules about email marketing, then you might not know that not having one of those “clear and conspicuous” unsubscribe links can get you slapped with a fine.

If you’re noticing your emails are regularly getting flagged as spam, your unsubscribe link is probably tucked away. CAN-SPAM recommends the “creative use of type size, color, and location” to improve clarity.


What’s your digital marketing pet peeve? Let us know in the comments.


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