If you are a frequent reader, you should know that I dislike ads and marketing, especially those pushing the limit to increase sales and conversions. I understand that digital marketing is a necessary evil, for putting products out there and as a revenue stream for content creators. However, when it is overdone, it pisses me off and makes me not trust your business. If someone can use such tactics to boost their sales, what else will they do to you? This is a list of things in digital marketing that pisses me off.
As long as you click on their ad, there is a chance of you converting into a sale. Titles and thumbnails have to be exaggerated to catch the consumer’s eye. When done properly, it can make the consumer want to find out what is behind the title or thumbnail. Also, does the content behind the eye-catching title answer the question the consumer might have?
Titles and content that are misleading are clickbait. They don’t serve any purpose besides getting you to click. People are curious and look for shortcuts in life (Easy weight loss, passive income with 15 minutes a day) therefore inexperienced and naive consumers might get cheated on their time and money.
We are bombarded with so much information nowadays, our attention span is getting shorter and we click on messages mindlessly. After clicking on the clickbait, we forget why are we even there in the first place and just consume whatever content is there.
Some examples of clickbait include
- Free shipping* (comes with minimum order)
- Fake footage of games (just for you to download the game)
- 50% off* (limited products and capped at $10)
Besides hiding behind terms and conditions, sometimes you are unable to find the promotion on the website after clicking on the ad. If you are not paying attention, you will not remember why you are at the site and there is a chance you might make a purchase if something catches your eye.
Photo via CrucifyMyLover/HardwareZone
Clickbait can also happen in real life. Not exactly digital marketing but a recent example is the GDC vouchers sent out by an eCommerce company. It is an attempt to get households to download their app. They copied the CDC voucher letter format almost exactly while changing the colour scheme to green, their branding colour. They also use the Singapore Merlion logo to look legitimate. Although not a scam, they make use of misleading marketing tactics to get consumers to download their app.
Can you really trust a company using blatant clickbait?
Reviews and testimonials are essential in building trust. After looking at the price and product description, consumers nowadays also look at the experience of others to determine whether the product and service are for them. Raving reviews, stars and the number of reviews work better than digital ads in convincing consumers in pulling the buying trigger. It can also help them appear more favourable on searches.
However, you should know that reviews can be faked too. There are certain strategies that businesses use to game the system.
For new products, there are no reviews so having a few fake good reviews will persuade the consumer to make the first step. If you see an item without any reviews, you will hesitate in making the purchase as we usually want others to be the guinea pig to make sure that everything is ok before risking our own resources. Some unethical companies will directly create fake reviews.
If you see an unnatural perfect 5-star score or an extraordinarily high number of reviews, your alarm bells should be ringing. Consumers usually do not give out reviews easily. We also tend to only leave reviews when we have something to complain about. Businesses sometimes give out free gifts or dishes in exchange for a review. The more ethical ones will just ask for a review but unethical ones will ask for a 5-star review. However, we will usually give a 5-star review as some of us might feel paiseh if we show a 4-star review to the establishment to get our free gift.
Have you seen your favourite influencers, celebrities or even friends sharing their favourite products and services on social media? Do they truly recommend the products or are they compensated whenever a sale is made? Without declaring their interests, it will look like a sincere recommendation of a product that they truly believe in. This creates a conflict of interest where the content creator might play down the negatives while focusing on the positives in order to increase the attractiveness of the product.
It is true that one can recommend a product while also making a commission, however, I feel that they would have to declare their commercial interest to keep things transparent.
A news website that I frequent consistently tags some of its branded articles as “sponsored” a few hours after they are posted. It misleads its readers by making them think that they are not paid for recommending the specific product. I have written in multiple times to let them know but they keep repeating this mistake. In this case, it should be incompetence instead of malice as at the end of their article, it is still stated as sponsored. However, many readers do not read till the end and leave the article halfway, having an impression that the content they just consumed is organic.
If in doubt, I wrote something here to identify sponsored content. Essentially we will have to look at
- Staged Product Placement
There are certain deliverables and keywords content creators have to include in their sponsored posts.
Forced Sign Ups
Some businesses force us to sign up for their marketing newsletter or sign up for an account before being able to use their service. If we don’t check the box, we will not be able to proceed. I believe most of us will just check the box just to gain access.
We will only be able to unsubscribe when we receive the first marketing email or if we especially scour their platform for the marketing settings or write in personally to remove our names from their marketing list.
Remember all those free insurance programs like free covid and dengue insurance? The probability of claiming these insurance payouts is extremely small but in exchange, these insurance companies gain permission given by you when you sign up for the free insurance.
The expected value of the insurance policy can be a few cents for an individual, however, the value of you as a potential customer is a lot. They are able to contact you to sell other more profitable products in their lineup.
I received a business opportunity from a fintech company that allows you to check the “best” rates for refinancing your mortgage. However, they bait you into filling in all the details of your current mortgage before telling you that you will need to create an account with them to see the results. I didn’t like this plus I don’t have any plans on buying a property so I didn’t agree to do business with them.
Your favourite financial influencers are not telling you this but they make hundreds of dollars for each user when users refinance using software or affiliate code embedded on their website.
Sending marketing messages is barely bearable but when the frequency goes up, it is extremely disruptive to our lives. This is another attempt to remind you of their business and get you to visit their website or app.
One or two marketing messages a day or week is ok but when you receive multiple notifications a day, it really pisses me off. Imagine someone tapping your shoulder every hour asking you to buy something.
Difficult To Unsubscribe Or Turn Off Notifications
It gets worse when you attempt to turn off the notifications but it still manages to force itself through. You should be able to turn off notifications or unsubscribe from emails, however, businesses can make it difficult to do so either with malicious intent or incompetence.
They can make it difficult to subscribe or turn off notifications in the following ways.
- Deeply hidden notifications settings
- Hidden unsubscribe button
- Continue sending notifications even after turning off settings and unsubscribing
I personally faced this with a local crypto business where they sent me multiple marketing emails after pressing the unsubscribe button and even writing into them multiple times to get them to take me off their marketing list.
Normal popups are no longer in style and they are blocked by popup blockers. Popups nowadays are native to the platform, unable to be blocked by any software. Native popups are typically grouped into the following categories.
|Entry||Popup will appear once you enter the website|
|Time/scroll-based||Pop up will appear after some time or scrolling to a certain point|
|Specific page||Popup will appear when you reach a certain page|
|Exit||Popup will appear once your mouse button tries to leave the page or moves to the exit button|
The purposes of popups include getting you to sign up for their newsletter and to notify of current promotions. Businesses can make use of FOMO by making use of a combination of the following factors.
- Countdown timer
- Sale period
- “Exclusive” voucher codes
- Limited stock
They can also attempt to change your mind by giving you a discount to finish the transaction if you decide to leave the site before buying anything.
I personally feel that they are extremely disruptive to the surfing experience so I did not include any popups on my website. Many websites nowadays have popups for you to sign up for their newsletters while you are reading their content.
If I see such popups on other websites, I always close them without looking at them.
When we have to make decisions under pressure, either from the lack of time or if there is limited stock, we will tend to not consider everything relating to the purchase as we are afraid that the promotion will run out or if the item gets out of stock.
Have you ever visited a site and they say that X number of people are looking at this product now or “Human name” has bought this item in the past hour? As mentioned above, they also like to include countdown timers or the promotion will end if you leave this page. There is software that does this to induce FOMO in consumers. There is nothing backing their claims and they can say anything they want.
The promotions are not exclusive and the items will not go out of stock. Even if they really do go out of stock, just wait for a restock or buy from someone else. There are rarely any products that deserve such FOMO. Most of them are just businesses preying on consumer psychology to move more goods.
We are used to viewing ads before, during and after videos but it is getting more outrageous nowadays. The ads evolve from skippable after 5 seconds to unskippable ads. Then 1 unskippable ad evolves into 2 unskippable ads. Once we get used to something and if there are no other competitors, we have to tolerate such ads. If this gets too much, we might need to sacrifice functionality and revert to browsers and use adblockers.
I suspect that these businesses are under pressure to bring up sales year to satisfy their shareholders. By increasing the frequency of ads, they can bring up their ad revenue quite significantly. However, there has to be a tipping point where even less tech-savvy consumers get pissed off and just download an adblocker or just leave the platform entirely.
There is a dystopian example in an episode of black mirror episode where if you close your eyes or look away, the ad will pause and will only continue if you look at it.
In fact, there are already patents out these that pauses an ad if you look away from it.
There is also a funny yet terrifying patent by Sony that makes you shout out a brand’s name to skip an ad.
Things You Can Do
There are limited things that we can do to combat these digital marketing tactics as there are no strict laws regulating the marketing landscape. However, here are some ways to limit the damage businesses can do.
Install an adblock plugin like ublock origin to block most ads to minimize your exposure to ads. If you want to install an adblock plugin on your mobile, you will be able to do it for android with firefox and ublock origin. Even if you are unable to block ads on Apple, you will be able to turn off tracking to prevent businesses from bombarding you with personalized ads. Personalized ads are effective as they are catered to what we are interested in.
Unsubscribe From Marketing And Turn Off Notifications
Notice what businesses are sending you notifications and marketing messages throughout the day and turn off the notifications and unsubscribe from those businesses that you don’t want to receive.
Better yet, delete the app if we do not use them and reinstall them only when we need to use them. I personally install Shopee when I need to and delete the app once my item is delivered.
Take Note Of Which Companies Exploit Digital Marketing
Spread the word and tell your friends and family about their practices. Buy from their competitors to directly take away their sales. If they are a company you like, write to them and provide them feedback. If they are companies that you dislike or don’t trust, click on their ads to make them pay without any possibility of sales (e.g. financial gurus), make use of their teaser promotions and delete their app if applicable. I also report their videos and mark them as spam if I come across them.
We will make them pay by lowering their sales and increasing their expenses to let them know these tactics are not acceptable and they should stop using unethical and irritating methods.
Laws On Marketing
We really need more laws to regulate the marketing landscape in Singapore. There are some guidelines on best practices but I don’t think that it is enough. We shouldn’t wait until a big group of consumers get hurt before implementing laws.
Digital marketing is inevitable. However, some businesses go overboard and push it to the limit to increase their sales. This is a list of things in digital marketing that pisses me off. In order to lower their impact, there is a list of things that we can do.
Do share your stories on irritating or unethical things that you have experienced from digital marketing ads.
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Check out my Breaking The Marketer’s Code series here
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