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Is There Such A Thing As Ethical Copy?

From an ethical perspective, one area where a lot of people use sneaky marketing tricks is copywriting. Let's talk about what it means to be ethical when you’re writing marketing copy and how to write copy that’s consistent with ethical standards.

(This post is based on a podcast interview I had with my friend, Tarzan Kay, who has also been thinking about the issue of ethical marketing. If you’d like to listen to the episode, click here.)

If you’ve been around in the online marketing space, you probably realize there are some problematic marketing practices, yet not many people are questioning them.

It’s like a bad game of telephone. Somebody discovered something that made money way back in the early days of internet marketing, and it’s just been passed down over and over again.

From an ethical perspective, one area where a lot of people use sneaky tricks is copywriting. What does it mean to be ethical when you’re writing marketing copy? How do we write copy that’s consistent with ethical standards?

The Responsibility Of A Copywriter

Copywriters have an incredible skill. They know how to use words to get people to buy. Some are really good at using words that override the voice in your head that says, “You’re not ready for this. This isn’t the next step for you. This isn’t your best interest.” And people will buy it anyway.

The ethical question here is whose responsibility is it to make sure that the people who actually aren’t ready for the product you offer don’t buy it?

It’s easy to say we all have to take personal responsibility for all of our actions. Someone who has an enormous amount of privilege, safety nets, and access to money can make a $10,000 mistake.

But for many people, a bad spending decision could mean spending a decade recovering from that decision.

How do we strike a balance here? If you can get anyone to buy something from you, even if it’s not really for them, how do you use your influence in a way that doesn’t cause harm?

Don’t Prey On Negative Emotions

Oftentimes, when people buy a program, they’re in a certain amount of pain and they need to be brave to make a change.

That’s why it’s important that we don’t blame people for where they are, then turn around and also tell them that if they don’t take action and buy your program, then it’s their fault because they need to take responsibility.

Since marketing copy often speaks to people in a vulnerable state, it needs to walk the fine line between encouraging people to take action making them feel even worse about the state they’re in. We need to look beyond the sale.

How are we taking care of those people? How are we making sure we don’t use the line of messaging that causes them to feel so bad about themselves that they just click your link and buy your offer to make that feeling go away?

We do need to agitate pain in some places, but where is the line on that? How do we figure out whether we’re going too far in agitating pain?

Articulate The Problem

There’s a difference between articulating the problem and agitating the pain. You can articulate the problem and not blame someone for their own pain.

You can stop poking at negative emotions by just talking about the specifics of the problem and articulating it. You don’t have to make the person feel it.

Let’s start with the basic assumption that your ideal customer knows what’s best for them. They can make a decision if you give them all the right information.

Then you have to do the work and make your offer so clear and compelling that the customer knows they need it without you making them feel terrible.

Think About What You Promise

In the online marketing space, we’re taught to talk about the benefits, and that’s where I think the problem comes in.

Promising things is one of the things that makes me uncomfortable. Where is the line when we know that more than 50% of the people who buy won’t get the benefits?

For example, if you have testimonials that say someone sent one email and made $13,000 or that they did their first launch and made $50,000, is it ethical to put this on your homepage?

You can’t really promise that people will get the same results. Even if people do everything you tell them to, there are other factors like having the right offer, having an audience, and other details that need to come together for the stuff you teach to actually work.

Think about what you’re putting in front of your people. Does it represent real results? Is it actually what you’re working toward?

We have to account for the fact that most online courses have a low completion rate. We need to do everything we can to raise that completion rate.

Talk About More Than Money

Should people avoid using case studies and testimonials that are about money?

Well, they’re still important. We need to talk about money, but we should talk about more than that. You can’t promise that someone’s going to go through your program and make six figures.

Look at it and ask yourself: What are the reasonable results you could expect someone to achieve?

Also, when talking about potential results, be very clear about the amount of work involved. A testimonial that involves revenue is misleading. Nobody knows the whole history there.

Case studies are a bit better because you get a chance to talk more about the work they did. You can talk about the backstory.

There’s no magic solution. No magic formula. No magic bullet. It’s work.

Ask Yourself: Is This True?

Most people come into your program, thinking that you have the magic bullet because that’s what everyone else is leading them to believe.

That needs to change. But how?

We need to start thinking critically about the strategies we’re being taught. Before clicking publish on something, ask yourself, “Is this true?”

Do you feel a hundred percent sure about it?

You may use scarcity and urgency, but the simple question is, is it true?

You’d see people in your program who are about to be financially broken because they spent $10,000 and they don’t even have a business yet. This needs to stop.

We’re responsible for shifting the tracks. We’re the ones that will determine what happens next.

Unless we actively change this, we’re just going to end up using all the strategies that we learned from the people ahead of us.

Sometimes you need to question what you’re being taught, especially if what you’re hearing makes you uncomfortable.

If you bought a product and something about that didn’t work for you or it made you feel uncomfortable, that’s important. Your marketing should reflect a different approach.

If they’re making us uncomfortable, we can’t do the same thing to other people. We have to find new ways because there’s a reason that we’re not comfortable with these methods.

Do Not Ever Force A Decision

Our people are savvy. They can tell when you’re brand new in your business.

You need to assume that your customer is just as smart as you are. It’s a great place to start because when you’re on equal footing and when you treat your audience as adults, you can still convert them without lying to them.

You need to balance how much pressure to put on people to make a big decision. They need time to think about it, talk it over with their partner, or sleep on it.

We all have to look at these persuasion strategies that we see used every day and think about our own version. What would feel good to you?

It’s not good practice to force a decision. Look at your own business and decide what’s right for you and your people.

Instead of saying, “What’s going to make me more money right now?” What if we simply ask, “What’s going to serve my audience the best?”

You may not make as many sales today, but I think you’re going to have more success long-term when you switch to that second thing.

Tell People About Playing The Long Game

What we don’t often hear in the online marketing space is that you have to play the long game. The messaging in the industry centers on how to make six figures happen quickly.

But if you’re not playing the long game, you’re going to burn out and you won’t enjoy the customers that you get.

The more you pile on persuasion, the more you just use your magic skills to make everyone buy, the more you get customers that aren’t ideal. That creates a customer service problem because they shouldn’t have bought the whole program in the first place.

You need to tell people that if you get to a six-figure year, you’re in the very small minority in this industry. A lot of people don’t want to admit that, but I feel like part of what we ought to do is to tell people that and be honest with them.

They need to understand that you can build a six-figure business, but it’s going to take some time and effort. Don’t make a pie in the sky kind of promise.

This Is A Journey

Your marketing copy is a powerful tool that can make everyone buy from you. But if you want to be an ethical marketer, you need to think about where to draw the line and think critically about the strategies people ahead of you are teaching. Always consider if it’s true and if what you’re doing is in the best interest of your audience.

If you want to learn more about building and marketing your business in an ethical way, you should join my FREE signature program, BADA$$ Online Marketing University