Is All Copywriting Manipulative?

Jump on Google and the first result (and second and also fourth…) searching “manipulative copywriting” is an Amazon “bestseller” that touts the benefits of grasping “clients’ attention” and making “any offer inviting using enticing words”. 

A book that teaches you how to emotionally manipulate (that’s literally the first chapter) people into doing what you want them to do and buying what you want them to buy? Sounds sketchy.

However – and this is a sad “however” – not a lot of people see that. Even more so when big marketers and “advertising gurus” – the Gary Vees and Rachel Hollis of the world – are continuously vouching for these not-so-ethical techniques that will keep audiences glued to their screens. 

But what is manipulative copywriting? And is it even possible to write sales copy that isn’t manipulative to some extent? 

Let’s find out!

What do we mean by “manipulative copywriting”?

While you might not have realized it, you’ve probably been a victim of manipulative copywriting at some point.

Whether it’s copywriting that pushes you to sign up for a course you saw online, buy a new “miracle face cream”, or simply donate money to an organization… manipulative copywriting usually shows up by making you feel bad about yourself if you make the decision not to click that green “COMPLETE PURCHASE” button.

READ MORE: 3 Ways Manipulative Copywriting Shows Up in Your Marketing Strategy

Through over-promising results, creating urgency, and baiting you into feeling inadequate, these sneak attack copywriting techniques are all about playing mind games with an audience that’s too vulnerable to realize what’s happening.

It’s an exceptional form of power dynamics. 

A few examples of manipulative copywriting

Unfortunately, manipulative marketing and copywriting techniques are… pretty much everywhere. 

They’ve become the sort of “norm” – especially one that all magic “Marketing 101” or “Rags to Riches” courses try to sell you. 

You know, the ones guaranteeing that you’ll make “TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS IN FIVE MINUTES SITTING FROM THE TOILET IF YOU USE MY TIPS!!!”

(Manipulative copywriting selling manipulative copywriting tactics…how meta).

In cases like this, manipulative copywriting is generally present in the form of…

  • Scarcity (“You NEED this course in order to ever succeed…”)
  • Fake urgency (“There are only 3 HOURS LEFT before it’s gone FOREVER!”)
  • Forced feelings of inferiority (A button that reads “I DON’T want to purchase and become the BEST!”)
  • Binary thinking (“This course is the ONLY way you will ever learn about…”)

Yuck, right? Reading those sends your brain into overdrive, constantly feeling like:

  • You’re not good enough to do what you do
  • You’ll never be smart in business enough without them
  • You need to do it NOW or suffer forever because you missed out
  • There’s only one road to success…and you’re not on it

And, as business owners, is that really how you want your customers to feel about themselves? Down, insecure, stressed, anxious…

Let’s be completely honest with ourselves here: do you really want to build a community – and earn money – based on milking people’s worst fears?

No. No, you don’t. At least we hope you don’t… but you can decide that for yourself.

And the good news is…you can put an end to this. 

How? Well, there are ways to still sell – or connect, or engage – without the need to play with people’s emotions and use sneaky tactics that make them feel “less-than”. 

3 tips to avoiding manipulative copywriting tactics

Unfortunately, manipulative copywriting has been ingrained into what we do and see. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we find it hard to imagine a world where trying to sell something doesn’t include exclamation points, the scarcity mentality, and fake countdowns.

Nonetheless, over at The Quirky Pineapple Studio (TQPS) HQ, we believe that it’s still possible to create and execute a holistic and genuine marketing strategy that doesn’t rely on these seedy tactics in order to trick and trap people into buying something they supposedly and desperately “need”.

Ditch sleazy marketing and copywriting tactics with our Heartfelt Copywriting Bundle! A comprehensive guide created to help you define your brand voice and write cohesive website copy that shares your values, impact, and mission!

Here are a few ways how we write copy…without recurring to sleaze.

1. Highlight the benefits, not the stressors

While writing your sales copy, think about how people will feel after purchasing something from you – not how SOL and destroyed they’ll be if they decide not to. Approaching a sale from this angle can help you feel a lot less skeevy and, at the same time, establish a first-time authentic connection with someone who needs your help.

So, instead of highlighting how poorly they’ll do because they don’t have your expertise to back them up, choose to write about the many ways your product or service can help them on their journey. 

By doing this, you’ll already know that the relationship you’re building is cemented on feelings of trust and not hopelessness.

2. Show (& teach), don’t just tell

Manipulative copywriting is all about telling. They tell you to do XYZ, they tell you someone else did XYZ, they tell, tell, tell…but they never truly show.

Yeah, some ads might be filmed in front of 5 cars and a giant mansion. But what does that really say to someone who’s just getting started? Opulence isn’t showing or teaching: it’s just showing off.

READ MORE: The 3-Step Formula to Creating a Powerful Brand Message for Small Business

Next time you’re writing copy, think more about teaching people what you’re about and showing them what you do instead of just (over)promising vague results. In doing this, you’ll also seem more trustworthy because there will be something real and tangible to show for your efforts…not just flash.

3. Have their best interest at heart

Yes, you started your business because it was something that you believed in. Yes, of course, you want to make money doing what you do…but this doesn’t mean you need to force people into buying what you sell. 

(Read that again and again and again…)

Sometimes what you do isn’t a great fit for someone. That doesn’t make you any less of a professional and it especially doesn’t make them any less worthy of finding something that will work.

You can’t write copy in an effort to appeal to everyone because you’ll never truly understand what angle to approach the situation from…and you’ll end up recurring to less-than-ethical tactics in an attempt to capture whatever lead is closest. 

PRO TIP: Copywriting and marketing (in our humble opinion) is supposed to be used to educate your potential customer as much as possible about what your service, product, or program offers, who it’s for, and how this will help so they can make an educated decision on if it’s a good fit or not.

With this, it’s important that, when trying to sell, you write copy that has your intended customer’s best interest in mind:

  • How are they feeling?
  • Why might they be feeling this way?
  • How can you help them in this stage?
  • What are some things you can teach them before you get started?

By putting them before anything else – the sales, the money, the name – you can clear enough headspace to write copy that is still inviting…without duping people into purchasing something for the sake of it.

NO, Not all copywriting has to be manipulative…

It’s taken a whole lot of loops to come to this, but here’s the thing: we don’t believe that all copywriting is manipulative or malicious.

Are there certain instances where people decide to turn copywriting on its head and transform it into a manipulative take-take relationship? Yeah, it does happen.

Does this mean that all copywriting should abide by these guidelines? Definitely not. 

There are still ways in which business owners can employ the power of copywriting to convey their message, connect with their audience, and make sales without recurring to manipulation.

Three of our favorite tips to keep in mind when doing so are:
1. Highlight the benefits, not the stressors, of how customers will feel after purchasing
2. Show them the results instead of just telling your potential customers about them
3. Have your customers’ best interest at heart

Once you begin to understand that your sales copy doesn’t need to sound pushy or aggressive in order to work, you’ll also begin to see past icky manipulative copywriting techniques in order to adopt practices that best suit you and your clients!

How have you pushed past the constant barrage of manipulative copywriting advice? Let’s discuss in the comments below!


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