January 23, 2023

Do you ever get the “ick” feeling about marketing your offer or service? If so, this blog post is for you. Here’s the thing: I’m a pretty confident person. I know I’m smart. I know I do good work. I’ve seen with my own two eyes and ears that people get *actual* results from the work we do together—and I *still* sometimes get the ick whenever I have to promote a sale, or post on TikTok for 30 days in a row, or whatever else.

I know my work makes the world a better place—buuuuut, unethical marketing practices have permeated our society for decades, and I never want to be perceived as slimey.

If you ever feel this way too, it’s normal. Many people are incredibly scammy when it comes to marketing their “thing”. But the trick to cutting through this feeling? Making sure you’re *actually* not being slimey. This blog post is going to walk you through all the most unethical marketing practices and how you can avoid them. Let’s dive in.

7 Unethical Marketing Practices You Should Stop Doing Right Now

Consider these the 7 deadly sins of owning a business. Will they kill your business right away? No, actually—people use these because unfortunately, they work. But over time, you will start to erode the trust of your audience… for life. Here are some biz tactics to steer clear from.

1. Just Straight Up False Advertising

Sure, someone might buy the couch you’re selling because you’re claiming it to be “world’s comfiest” and “easiest to set up”. But when it actually arrives and it is neither of those things? You’ve lost me as a customer for life. (This is actually a real story of something that happened to me last year—read about it here! Although now that I’ve had this couch for 5-ish months, I do like it. But I was so mad about the setup experience that the blog post lives on.)

2. The Classic Bait and Switch

Have you ever bought into something because of its low price, but then got further into the product or service and realized it required a bunch of “upgrades” to even work the way it was advertised? This is the good ole’ bait and switch. They’ll take your money now, so that you feel “bought in”, and upsell you until you’ve spent way more than you even wanted to.

3. Scams—AKA, Theft

The word “scam” is used a lot these days (interchangeably with a lot of the definitions on this list). But a real scam is probably one of the most unethical marketing practices out there. These are fraudulent schemes designed to trick people into giving away money. So, essentially, stealing.

4. Spamming

This tactic is still taught in MANY marketing courses and it’s honestly shocking. The idea is that if you slide into enough inboxes, DMs, Linkedin messages, or phones, you will find customers. The amount of spam emails I get a day offering me “web design” is honestly appalling (because lol, I am a web designer) and I can’t believe people are still doing this. Taking the time to build actual relationships with people who align with your work takes way less time & resources, and is WAY more fulfilling. Trust me.

5. Deceptive Pricing

If “bait and switch” and “scam” had a baby, it would be deceptive pricing. Making the cost of your offers purposefully confusing to understand is bad practice, and you shouldn’t do it.

6. Paying for Misleading Testimonials

This is why I’m so wary of Amazon reviews, because *so many* of them are still generated by bots or paid reviewers. (And actually, this is why people are starting to become more and more skeptical about influencers, because influencing is essentially a paid testimonial, too. That’s why if you’re looking to become an influencer, you need to build trust with your audience AND only promote products you believe in.)

7. Misusing Customer Pain Points

A lot of marketers use customer “pain points” to market their offer—and while it’s good to be aware of the problems you’re solving for your customers, it’s not always good to shame them into buying something because of their pain points. If you want to learn more about that, here’s a trauma-informed marketing consultant that talks about this all the time!

BONUS: The Use of the Term “Tripwire”—STOP!

This isn’t necessarily an unethical marketing practice, but such a cringey term that we HAVE to stop using. If you don’t know, “tripwire” is another term for a lead magnet or freebie that you can use to build your email list. While trading free information or education for someone’s email address is a *totally* fine and fair marketing tactic, using the word “tripwire” to describe it is just so disgusting. Like, “tripping” someone into buying your offer is no reason to be giving away free education. Every time I see it, I want to scream.

Long Story Short, Stop Using these Unethical Marketing Practices!

It’s the quickest way to kill your business and erode the trust of your consumer. And as long as we’re here, let’s also go through some marketing phrases to stop using. Nothing triggers smart consumers like phrases they’ve been burnt by in the past. If you’re using any of the following in your sales emails, copy, instagram captions, websites, or anywhere else, take them out:

  • Buy now and save
  • Limited time offer
  • Gauranteed to work
  • Get rich quick
  • Exclusive deal
  • Revolutionary
  • Miracle
  • As seen on TV
  • Easy money
  • Lose weight fast

Unethical Marketing Practices Permeate Our Society, but They Don’t Have to Permeate Your Business

Luckily, there are sooooo many ways to build a sustainable business on trust & respect for the people you serve. Wanna learn how? Here’s some helpful content:

And if you’re looking to work with a web designer whose design practices are both high-converting *and* values-based, you know where to find me!

Hi, I'm Sarah Kleist.

Brand & web designer, personal brand strategist, and marketing educator obsessed with the power of connecting with audiences.



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