the ethical move

tactics + flips.

Certain marketing tactics are manipulative, full-stop. Others, not so much.

We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and collecting psychological tactics. This page shows you tactics we’ve identified as manipulative and how to ‘flip’ them. Every business has unique circumstances. Use this list as a resource and idea database.

Two things:

  • Disclaimers work wonders! If you need to use a manipulative tactic because of a real benefit, disclaim it. (For example, a countdown timer can help with time zone scheduling.) Over-communicating might feel tedious, but it helps raise awareness and reduces harm.
  • Influence is ethically neutral. If your audience is able to make a conscious choice, you are not manipulating them. As long as they are aware of what’s happening and give clear consent, market away! And share your ideas with us.

tactics list.

A ‘secret recipe’ is when someone claims they have an exclusive secret to success, or a shortcut, that no one else has. There is no ONE solution to a problem, and claiming that there is creates a sense of lack and loss aversion that are hard to resist.

The ethical move

  • Do not present your approach as a secret.
  • Do not promise to have the only solution.

Woke washing is the appropriation of ethical and progressive values with the intent to leverage image and increase sales, when behind closed doors, the actions and words don’t match the reality (when a brand donates to BLM while exploiting BIPOC in their supply chain). Not only does this put more attention on the ‘virtuous’ company than the movement or change it is claiming to support, it can inadvertently derail their mission by creating misinformation and indifference. This type of manipulation rides on our need to be seen favourably by our peers: we buy from companies that will create a positive image for us by extension.

The ethical move

  • Only place statements, labels, and pledges on your website if you can match every one of the commitments with your actions.
  • Be transparent about the actions you are taking, and make sure you are genuinely in alignment with them throughout every part of your business (values, communications, products, and operations).
  • When you share these actions, communicate how they directly connect to the values and mission of your company.
  • Be accountable and open to conversation about the causes you support.
Bait and switch occurs when we are led to expect something of value, and what we get doesn’t match that expectation (a webinar turning into an unexpected sales pitch). Bait is designed to cognitively prime us for receiving value, and once we are lured in and the value item is removed, we become anxious to fill the void with almost any solution that will make us feel whole again. Having value given to us, we feel called to reciprocate – with our time, information, attention, or money.

The ethical move

  • When providing value with a pitch connected to it, tell your audience in your invitation and introduction how it will be presented, receive their consent, and then deliver your value with your audience having knowledge of what to expect.
  • Aim to not have more than 5% of your value taken up by a sales pitch.
  • Try delivering your value after your pitch – or deliver your value and your pitch in separate conversations.

Lead magnets (freebies, opt-ins) are used to collect email addresses for the purpose of marketing (list building). Several layers of manipulation are at play when using lead magnets: It is hard to resist something ‘free’; there is harm in calling something ‘free’ when we are paying for it with our information, time, and attention; an email address is a low-bar entry agreement – which lowers the resistance to saying no in the future; and once enrolled, having handed over information makes us more receptive to what is being sent to us.

The ethical move

  • Give the option of receiving the offering without having to sign up to any other marketing materials.
  • Create a separate invitation to the email list with clear communication on what it will be used for (GDPR guidelines are a given).
  • If you can’t separate the offering from your email list, be very transparent in your sign-up box (that they will receive emails), make unsubscribing easy, and provide only content directly related to the subject of the offering.
  • If your campaign changes and you are planning to send content not related to the offering they signed up for, give your audience a very obvious option to opt out.

False scarcity is designed to make an opportunity, product or service seem more rare, and therefore more valuable than it actually is. This plays on consumers’ fear of missing out and loss aversion, rather than allowing them to buy out of genuine desire.

The ethical move

  • Be honest about availability.
  • When there is real scarcity, communicate why.
  • Avoid fake exclusivity (if the offer is invite-only, just announce it to the people you want to invite).
  • Offer alternatives when there are actually limited quantities: you can say “there are only 5 seats in my workshop – but here’s another option if you don’t have the time or resources for this right now”.

Countdown timers (ticker) create feelings of anxiety and a false sense of urgency: “You have to do it now… or you will lose out forever”. They’re designed to make people make hasty decisions instead of allowing them the time to decide if it’s the right purchase for them.

The ethical move

  • Allow pressure-free space for your audience to decide if buying or opting in is right for them at this time.
  • Use the final date and time to indicate the end of your sale without a time ticker.
  • Be transparent and honest around signup timing (don’t say it’s the last chance if it’s not).
  • Say when you are going to offer the opportunity again.
  • Don’t extend the deadline beyond the original date communicated just to get last-minute sales.

We judge prices based on the leftmost digit of a number. Charm prices use the left-digit-effect to make a product appear cheaper than it is, bypassing the conscious choice of the buyer. They are only created to generate more sales and do not benefit the buyer in the least.

The ethical move

  • Ask yourself: are you trying to make your price look cheaper? Round up or down.
  • Do not use the number 9 in your price endings.
  • Prices can include or exclude tax and other charges, as long as it is clearly communicated.
  • Currency has to be clearly recognizable (ie CAD/USD vs $).
  • For people bound by a price box (Amazon, Apple, etc): we accept pledges by businesses that communicate round numbers on their website/marketing materials, even though the price at check out might differ.

Take the pledge.

And please let us know what we should tackle next! We have a running list, but we can’t see all of the internet. Email us at

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the ethical move