3 Ways to Avoid Manipulative Copywriting 

Let’s cut to the chase: manipulative copywriting pisses us off. 

To make matters worse, it’s often touted as the “sure-fire” and “easiest” way to sell something – or convince someone to buy something – by big-name marketing bros, girl bosses, and other self-proclaimed marketing gurus.

Sure, copywriting is an essential skill for businesses and business owners who want to make a sale – there’s no denying that. However, manipulative copywriting and manipulative marketing techniques are often more harmful than they are helpful. 

Not just to the audience, but to the brand’s reputation as well…

As a responsible business owner, copywriter, or marketer, it’s important to work toward avoiding these techniques and, instead, focus on creating compelling, honest, ethical, and impactful content that goes beyond wanting to make a quick buck.

But how can you make sure you’re not falling into the trap of manipulative copywriting? And what does manipulative copywriting even sound like? 

Let’s take a closer look at how it all works.

What is manipulative copywriting?

Put simply, manipulative copywriting is any type of copywriting that makes you feel bad, guilty, or less-than for not doing what it’s telling you to do.

Whether that’s purchasing a course from your favorite (not for long 👀) marketer or buying a new product from a brand you love, manipulative copywriting works to point out your flaws, over-promise, and create a false sense of urgency to get you to press that BUY NOW button.

How does manipulative copywriting show up?

There are a few different ways out there in which manipulative copywriting shows up. Generally, you can tell that a piece of copy feels off from the beginning because it makes you feel… well, icky to read it.

Specifically, the most popular forms of manipulative copywriting are:

  1. Binary thinking: This refers to the idea that there’s only “one way” to do something –– and that way is what they’re trying to sell you. Binary thinking ignores the nuances of privilege and oppression and focuses solely on the idea that hard work can get you wherever you want to go. We call BS on that one. 
  2. False sense of urgency: Never-ending countdowns, “last item available”… fake urgency plays with your emotions by making you feel like you’re about to miss out if you don’t buy something right away. Basically, they resort to lies… and who wants to buy from someone who’s so, very clearly lying?
  3. Pressure purchase statements: Both in the form of CTA (call-to-action) and opt-out buttons, manipulative copywriting wants to make you feel bad for doing –– or not doing –– what’s supposedly expected of you. Using phrases like “Sign up today or continue to fail!” or “I don’t want to receive the BEST marketing tips to make me a millionaire”, this type of copy makes you feel like there’s no other way out.

As you can see, manipulative copywriting is all about highlighting inadequacy, being extremely judgemental, and emotionally and psychologically coercing readers into believing they’ll never be good enough unless they do XYZ.

But, here’s something these manipulators won’t tell you… it doesn’t have to be this way at all.

3 ways to avoid manipulative copywriting in your marketing

Whether intentional or not, manipulative copywriting has – unfortunately – become somewhat of a norm

After all, it’s what most people and experts teach: how to convince people that you’re all they’re ever going to need and that your knowledge is everything they’ll ever need to know.

But we’re here to break that toxic cycle and show you –– and, hopefully, them –– that manipulation might work once, and that it might work twice… but it’s never going to be sustainable in the long run.

So, next time you’re planning on writing some copy, here are 3 things you can do instead of recurring to the sneaky sales techniques some podcaster said earned them 20k in an hour…

1. Focus on the benefits, not on what people are missing

With manipulative copywriting, the main focus is on what people will miss out on, or what they won’t achieve if they choose not to complete their purchase.

On the other end of the spectrum, human-centered marketing and copywriting turn this around and focuses on the different ways a product or service can benefit the reader.

Whereas using fear and uncertainty might help you make a quick sale, emphasizing the benefits means you’ll work to build a stronger foundation based on trust with your audience from the get-go –– one that demonstrates how you can work with them to create positive change.

2. Show people why they’ll love you, don’t just tell them to love you

With manipulative copywriting, it’s easy to fall into the trap of telling people to love your product or service… without actually providing any concrete reasons why.

A better strategy, however, would be to show people what they’ll love about your product or service and demonstrate your USP –– unique selling proposition –– through real-life examples that don’t over-promise or create a false reality of instant gratification.

Share stories of how your service/offer impacted someone’s life, and use real data and people to back up your claims –– this way, your audience, and ideal clients will feel more confident connecting with you.

PRO TIP: Think about the branded client experience that you are creating for your ideal clients. Yes, this takes us into brand experience – not so much copywriting – but when you are writing copy that is clear, kind, and non-manipulative… it enhances your solid brand message and experience. Y’all didn’t think we’d talk about copywriting without mentioning how important a clear brand message is first, did you? 😉

3. Focus on humans, not avatars or numbers

Traditional marketing techniques are based on the idea of target audiences, personas, and customer segments –– but, today’s real-life, hyper-connected world is a lot bigger, more nuanced, and complicated than that.

While these concepts can be helpful for understanding your audience’s needs and preferences, they’re also incredibly dehumanizing.

So, instead of treating your audience as faceless avatars or numbers, it’s crucial to focus on the human behind the screen. Every person who interacts with your brand is a unique individual with their own set of needs, desires, and pain points –– and this means that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to figuring out what they like, dislike, care about, etc.

This way, you’ll have a better chance to build trust and credibility with them –– which will turn into a long-lasting relationship that goes beyond that first click.

PRO TIP: Instead of focusing solely on the demographics and ‘census’ information of your ideal client (ie: age, gender, household income, brands they shop at, etc.) – we like to approach developing an ‘ideal client avatar’ from a culturally competent perspective. This takes into account their culture, identity, and beliefs/stories they have about the problem they’re facing. This approach has helped us instantly connect with ideal clients!

Saying goodbye to manipulative copywriting for good

Here’s the thing: guilt, fear, and manipulation will only get you so far –– the true mark of business success lies in connection and community.

Sure, using manipulative copywriting might get you a quick sale … but we’re willing to bet that this someone who purchased will be less likely to come back once they realize they’ve been lied to.

Luckily, though, this doesn’t have to be the case. By taking a human-centered approach to marketing and copywriting, you can create messaging that truly resonates, inspires, and empowers your audience and builds long-term loyalty.

That said, here are three ways to become more human-centered and avoid manipulation in your marketing:
1. Focus on the benefits, not on what people are missing
2. Show people why they’ll love you, don’t just tell them to love you
3. Focus on humans, not avatars or numbers

By implementing these three copywriting strategies, you can shake off manipulative copywriting for good and create a genuine connection with your audience, community, and clients.

And, when the time comes to purchase again… we’re willing to bet they’ll be eager to come back to you instead.

Looking for brand strategy or copy support?

Schedule a call to learn how we can help you with brand messaging, copywriting, or content marketing!

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