Which is Better, Bullshit or Honesty in Marketing?

I checked, and I did write that in Convert!

Am I saying that it doesn’t matter if we’re honest or not? I don’t think so, and I’ll explain why.

In short, what I’m saying there is not that it doesn’t matter ethically whether you’re telling the truth or not, but that it doesn’t matter for the purposes of the technique to work. But I appreciate it is unclear.

Of course, it’s always tempting for marketers to… well… lie in order to increase the pressure on a prospect to take action.

The thing is, pressure works. That’s why we get offers saying, “Everything must go” and “Sale ends Saturday” or “Last few remaining”.

I would say there is a general lack of integrity in marketing, not least online. How many radio or TV ads finish with a 20-second burst of inaudible smallprint? How many alleged “sales” promote products that were only previously offered for sale at the “full” price in a handful of stores for the minimum length of time?

I think, to be fair, much of the marketing we see around us is bullshit. And a significant proportion of marketers are arseholes.

And it gets worse online.

  • Have you ever seen an offer that claims to end in just a few hours, where the end time is actually dynamically set by javascript?
  • Or the sales pages that show a pop-up if you try to leave, offering you an extra discount?
  • What about the “rolling launch” offer technique, which is actually run by an email follow-up sequence? Whenever you join the sequence, it is made to seem like the launch is happening in 3 days, 2 days, tomorrow… But the reality is that the launch is dependent on when they got to you, and there is no real end.

Frankly, you can’t believe a lot of what you read online these days, particularly from “information marketers”.

Actually, my job is information marketing. I just wrote a book on it.

I have also strayed over the line on occasion. One time recently, when I promoted Joanna Wiebe’s copywriting ebook series, I called it a “giveaway” in the title. (See the post URL here.) When that happened, two of my newsletter subscribers immediately pulled me up, so I repented and changed the title of the page.

So the temptation is always there, and there’s a lot of it around.

To answer the specific challenge, then: Do I advocate bullshitting in marketing?

No, I don’t. At least, I don’t think I do…

Sure, there are a lot of creeps out there who are quite happy to lie, pressurise, and manipulate people’s weaknesses in order to make as much money as possible. (If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you watch the Scamworld video to find out how deep this goes.)

There’s little question that these techniques work. Bullshit can sell.

I don’t approve of misrepresentation or lying. And if I ever overstep the line, I would always try to make amends. We’re all only human.

The question is, though, where is the line?

If I run an offer, I’ll consider putting a deadline on the offer, because deadlines work to force you to make a decision. Is that putting artificial pressure on prospects? Yes, it is. Is it acceptable? I think so.

When I originally launched my Pro Web Design Course, I set a limit of 20 places in the original Foundation Group. I know for sure that that scarcity helped me sell those places. (In fact, on day one, I said there were 40 places, but revised it down to 20 later.)

When does artifice become lying?

I don’t know the answers to all these questions, and would love to have a discussion around them.

Instinct tells me that what we really crave online is people (or brands) we can believe in. There is so little to trust today that we’re all starved of real trusting relationships, particularly in online business. I would like to be perceived as an honest and trustworthy information source and marketer. I do not want to be perceived as one of those bullshit-slinging arseholes!

Partly because I choose to believe that there are more honest people than we sometimes think, and that the world would reward integrity in marketing through karma.

But mainly because it’s right.

That’s why, after I saw “Scamworld”, I came up with an idea for a new international non-profit organisation. What do you think of this?

“The Ethical Internet Marketing Association” (or whatever it may be)

A “counter-syndicate” of ethical marketers who:

  • Promote great content
  • At fair prices
  • With unlimited 100% money back guarantees
  • And who are peer-reviewed for compliance to the rules
  • This won’t be a syndicate. It would be a real non-profit organisation, which exists for the benefit of its members, and for the greater good.
  • We will write up a code of practice, which governs the way we may and may not market: promises, guarantees, pricing, transparency etc.
  • It’s a self-policing group. Any member will have to sign up to the COP, and can be kicked out if they contravene it (after warnings). Prospective members will be vetted and approved by the existing membership body.
  • I think there should be an annual fee for full membership (say $1000). That means the bar is raised so that only pro marketers who are already having success can be full members. What full members get is exposure via the “Ethical Internet Marketing Association” website. All our products will be listed on there, under “marketers you can trust”. And all our sites will have a “EIMA member” with a backlink to the validating member page. That exposure will be worth the $1000 many times over.
  • The fees would go into a fund to promote ethical internet marketing, maybe also with some legal fund.
  • We could run seminars on ethical internet marketing, and maybe have an annual conference.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the questions – or my ethical internet marketing association idea. Would you be part of this? Would you support it? Would you trust it?