While I’ve written a lot of direct response projects over my 22+ year career, I’ve happily avoided getting myself and my clients in trouble.

Brandweek headerThat’s because I’m a staunch advocate of ethical marketing practices, and long been an outspoken critic of deceptive mailing practices.

In an age of increasingly jaded customers, deceptive marketing practices harden customers, eventually harming all marketers — especially those marketing fairly.

That’s whyBRANDWEEK sourced me when they wrote a story about the growing practice of deceptive mailings. While they ran several quotes, this stood out:

“The public is exposed to so many messages that when a growing percentage of those messages turn out to be deceptive, the result is yet another upward ratchet in consumer cynicism,” said Tom Chandler, a 20-year ad copywriter and consultant based in Mount Shasta, Calif., who operates ChandlerWrites.com. “That growing suspicion of marketers and brands has become so profound, some companies can’t even get customers to open envelopes containing real documents.”

Delight, Don’t Deceive

The rule here is simple: rather than deceive, why not delight recipients with a novel or creative approach?

Most deceptive marketing practices rely heavily on fear appeals. Unfortunately, the psychology of fear is well understood; the next time fear is falsely used as a motivator, you’ll need more of it to get the same response.

Where, exactly, will that end?

There’s also the larger question of brand value; as a proponent of engagement marketing, I must ask why anyone would risk their brand?

“What I don’t understand is why organizations allow deceptive practices to undermine their carefully [and expensively] cultivated brand images in the first place,” said Chandler. “I recently received a series of envelopes from a large credit-card bank where I held an account. All shared the same alarmist stamp that “Important Information” about his account was enclosed. “Of course, it wasn’t important information,” Chandler said. “It was a series of cross-selling pitches. After a month or two, I canceled my account.”

The Ethical Marketer

Every seasoned copywriter I’ve ever spoken to has a similar story; a chilling encounter with a client pushing them very, very hard to do something unethical.

In the moment, it’s always tempting to succumb, reasoning the work’s unsigned and nobody will know (how I wish copywriters received the credit/blame for their work).

Believe me, you’ll know.

Of course, one marketer’s “deceptive” is another’s fair game. And where that line should be drawn is never clear, though one thing is; if marketers keep stepping over that line, eventually regulation will be created that limit those transgressions (and probably do it poorly).

As copywriters, we are responsible for our work, and blaming clients for “making” us engage in deceptive practices is simply a wonky moral dodge.

Keep writing, Tom Chandler.