This post gives you a marketing reality check to make sure you’re not still getting bullied by outdated marketers who use dominance, fear, pain, and shame tactics to manipulate and coerce you into buying from them. And it gives you a checklist to make sure you aren’t unknowingly acting like a bully yourself!
In this post, I’ll discuss the concept of “Marketing Bullies” and “Marketing BDSM,” which refers to outdated marketing practices that are based on fear and shame. These rules are often characterized by war terms, which involve using aggressive language and tactics to sell products or services. This approach isn’t effective and we get to focus on creating supportive and empowering messaging instead. You’ll get cheat sheets and checklists to avoid falling into the trap of outdated marketing practices.
Bullying in Marketing uses the same rhetoric typical in “bro-marketing” and “boss-babe” speak. Most old-school marketers use it, alongside many recovering perfectionists who want to “Do it right.” You’ve seen their fear-based language in the generic war terms used thousand times:
Generic war terms
“Crush Social Media!”
“Conquer the market”
“Slay your Day!”
“Dominate your Competitors!”
“You’re killing it!”
Us vs Them
It’s super aggressive and focused on an imaginary fight between winners and losers as if there is a war raging that must be won. It’s the pale old, “Us vs Them” ideology that’s boring and overdone.
When you have to pitch everyone else as a threat, you’ll never appeal to anyone who is brave or inclusive. Instead, you’ll attract bullies and cowards and that crowd is not a community most people want to be part of.
Force vs Choice
Marketing bullies use force words that tell you what to do whereas Creatives use choice words that offer you something. Force comes from fear and a scarcity mindset that there isn’t enough to go around. Choice comes from having an abundance mindset and knowing there is enough for everyone.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet of words Marketing bullies use and alternatives you can use.
Marketing bullies say:
The wingman to war terms of marketing bullying is marketing BDSM. Although it’s a kink term, it makes for fat-free vanilla marketing strategies.
BDSM stands for Bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism. Here are the 4 major ways it translates into marketing speak:
- Limitation and Scarcity
- Pain and Problems
- Punishment & Victimhood
Next is a breakdown with examples of each of the 4 categories.
Limitation and Scarcity
(not enough / missing out / running out / limited price or quantity)
“Hurry, Limited time only! Only a few items left in stock!”
This creates a sense of scarcity and implies that there is not enough of the product available, so you must act fast to get it or miss out
“Save 50% on our top-selling product. Offer valid while supplies last.”
This creates a sense of urgency and implies that there is a limited quantity of the product available at a discounted price, so the viewer must act fast to take advantage of the offer.
Pain and Problems
(bleeding neck problem / poking the pain points)
Many financial services ads do this, like showing a couple struggling to pay their bills and worrying about their financial future. We watch their emotional pain and stress of financial insecurity, and it’s implied that the financial services company can provide solutions and help the couple achieve financial stability and peace of mind. By highlighting the emotional pain and presenting the company’s services as the solution, the advertisement aims to convince the viewer to use the company’s services to alleviate their own financial pain and stress.
(not good enough)
Beauty products do this a lot. For example, you’ll see a before and after transformation, with the before image portraying the person as unattractive or flawed and the after image portraying them as beautiful and perfect. The advertisement implies that the viewer needs the beauty product to improve their appearance and become more attractive. By implying that the viewer is not good enough as they are, the advertisement aims to convince the viewer to buy the product to achieve the desired transformation.
Punishment & Victimhood
(terrible consequences if you don’t do this now / apocalyptic)
A home security system that shows images of burglaries and home invasions and warns the viewer that “your home is not safe” and “don’t wait until it’s too late“. The advertisement implies that by not having a home security system, the viewer is putting themselves and their family at risk of being robbed or harmed. By highlighting the potential consequences and presenting the home security system as the solution, the advertisement aims to convince the viewer to buy the product to avoid the potential punishment of being a victim of a crime.
From Conformity to Creativity
Marketing Bullying perpetuates shameful ideologies like “You’re not good enough as you are.” It says, “You don’t want it bad enough” and “you have a problem that only my product or service can solve for you”.
Creative marketing offers support instead of “solutions”. And support doesn’t feel scary. Support feels supportive. Support offers you options, alternatives, and something extra. It doesn’t assume lack. It says, “Yes you can! And how about some more, thank you!”
Are you being bullied?
A quick way to tell if you’re being bullied by marketers is:
- Are they calling on my highest potential or putting me down?
- Do I feel expansive when I hear this or does it make me shrivel up inside because something is seriously wrong?
- Do I want this or do I feel like I need this or else?
From Trick to Treat
If you have to trick someone to work with you or buy from you, it’s unlikely they’ll trick others to work with you or buy from you too. But someone who chooses to buy of their own free-will will likely tell others too. They made an empowered choice and will shine as an example for others to follow.
By calling on their creativity, you are also calling on their bravery and courage to take risks and try new things. People who are brave and creative often inspire others to be the same, and they can serve as examples and role models for others to follow.
Remember that at best, your product or service should offer the potential for growth, expansion, and development. Using aggressive, confrontational tactics like “crushing” or “smashing” your competitors can be exhausting for you and your customer.
It sets up a hostile, negative, and combative atmosphere. Instead, when you offer an invitation or an alternative option, you’re giving your audience a positive, inspiring, and engaging experience that helps you build a loyal and supportive community of customers and fans.
Crushing is exhausting. Creating is exhilarating.
Building Better Businesses
Here’s a final example of a marketing campaign that didn’t use marketing bullying or marketing BDSM.
Apple’s “Think Different” campaign from 1997 featured black-and-white photographs of influential and iconic figures from various fields, accompanied by the tagline “Think Different”. The campaign celebrated creativity and individuality and encouraged people to challenge the status quo and think for themselves. The storyline didn’t use fear, shame, or problem-solving tactics, but instead focused on inspiring and empowering the viewer to be creative and unique (which calls on their highest potential). The campaign got wide praise for its positive, empowering, and uplifting message and for its impact on Apple’s brand image.
Thinking differently is exactly what I hope my blog and podcast encourage you to do, that’s why its’ called Playriarchy: reimagining the future of business. You’re invited and we all get to do it together.
You build better businesses by disengaging with marketing bulling and getting creative instead.
- The concept of “Marketing Bullies” and “Marketing BDSM” refers to outdated marketing practices that are based on fear and shame.
- The practices that use aggressive language and tactics to sell products or services are not effective.
- Focus on creating supportive and empowering messaging.
- A cheat sheet of “force” words used by marketing bullies and their “creative” alternatives.
- Marketing BDSM cheatsheet
- Call to your audience’s creativity and potential instead of using fear-based trap tricks.
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