Marketing methods to avoid – at all costs

Have you ever felt like someone or something was manipulating you? You’ll know the tell-tale signs. Overly emotional appeals to make us feel something. Situations where we are expected to think on the spot and make snap decisions. Often involving large sums of money. These are the marketing methods to avoid! I’m a Marketing Consultant with a career spanning over twenty years. First in big companies and now focusing on small business owners.  I take an interest in the ways that people try to sell things and the methods they use.

Note from Katie…wait, why the lack of pictures? In an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of my web presence, I am only using images at the very top of my posts, as well as where they serve a true purpose, such as headshots or infographics. That’s why you won’t find any purely decorative photos here anymore. Now, back to Shona…

It feels like recently there has been a constant drumbeat of bad marketing reported in the media. Facebook is one of the main offenders but there are others.

In the following article, I’m going to point out some examples that I’ve been exposed to recently, through my own life, or told to me by others. 

If this article is about marketing methods to avoid, what is good marketing?

Good marketing means caring about your customers. The people you hope will buy from you and build genuine ongoing relationships with your brand. The opposite  is manipulative, unkind, unclear, and damaging. 

The Minimalists say at the end of each podcast episode;

“Love people, use things, because the other way round doesn’t work”. 

I love this as an approach to life and to marketing.

Examples of marketing methods to avoid

I’m now going to share some of the examples of unethical marketing that I have seen or heard about recently. Sources credited wherever possible.

1.  Unethical Influencing – How To Spot It 

“Why is it small brands that are over a barrel?” Chrissy Crozier – Owner of PipSqueak.

Psychological manipulation

I had a conversation over Zoom with Chrissy, who I’ve known on Instagram for around 3 years.  She specialises in hand-printed bedding for kids. Her Instagram account has grown organically over the time she has had the company.  With 1,150 followers, she is typical of many small business owners who work hard on their business and don’t necessarily have hours to spend driving account growth.

Despite the fact she doesn’t have a huge audience, she still receives multiple messages every month from people describing themselves as influencers looking for free products in exchange for exposure on their accounts.

Chrissy explained how in a recent example the person who contacted her was based in Australia. First of all, this is not an area she is active in selling in because of the costs of shipping.  The person had an account that did not have any relevance to children’s bedding. She mainly featured cosmetics.  There was absolutely no obvious fit between the influencer and the small business she was seeking the free product from.

Often the accounts that presume to ask for free products have only a few thousand followers themselves. In Chrissy’s case, once she says no to the request, however politely she says it, the account will then unfollow. The psychological manipulation being used against small business owners is damaging. They want to grow their businesses. They care deeply about them. When they look at other people’s accounts that are growing more quickly than theirs, they feel like complying with the manipulators is the only way forward. 

Chrissy has decided that Pipsqueak will maintain its ethics in exchange for steady growth and customers who genuinely want to buy from her. 

Influencer u-turns and “collaborations”

I recently spotted some Instagram stories by Ethna owner of Slobberscarves, maker of eco bibs, leggings, and other eco-friendly childrenswear. Ethna had used Instagram reels to make a video directed at people who take from small business owners. I asked Ethna if she would provide me with a little more background, which she kindly agreed to. 

Ethna had formed a friendly relationship with an Instagrammer and YouTuber, who had a following of 30-40k. She had agreed to provide items in exchange for featuring in the influencer’s content.  After she did this, the person decided that her baby would not enjoy wearing the items, and went back on the agreement.  She was then very happy to dress her baby in items of clothing as part of a paid partnership with a larger brand.   Ethna felt that she had no choice but to walk away. She feared that any messages she sent to this influencer could be seen as harassment. She feared the power of this larger account holder to send their followers after her should she cross them.

Another approach that Ethna has experienced is the request for a collaboration.  As Ethna says, this is never a real collaboration, it simply means ‘please provide me with free items’. The accounts that do this rarely even follow her.  The ask is always the same, they “love the brand and want to experience it”. As Ethna points out, her range starts at a very reasonable £5 so if you like it, why not buy it and then feature it?

Not everyone has been difficult, however. Local influencers in Northen Ireland where Ethna is based have been really supportive of Sloberscarves, buying and featuring items on their accounts. This has led to sales and social media support for the brand. 

Let us swipe up!

A point that has been made to me numerous times is that many small business owners want the full functionality of their Instagram accounts such as the swipe-up story feature. Instagram has blocked this for anyone with under 10,000 followers.  This means many small business owners are working to build an audience to help with this reach. Perhaps if Instagram got rid of this barrier then more small business owners could focus on growing their accounts through means that support their business, rather than putting their trust in people who do not have their best interests at heart.

2. Rule-breaking marketing – drink your effing water

The Advertising Standards Industry exists to protect UK consumers from bad practise. If you are interested, they publish all the cases they uphold and what the advertiser did that broke the rules which you can view here.

In March, Charlie Day, owner of The Entrepreneurs Growth Club bought her four-year-old son a new drinking cup from Amazon. What she didn’t notice at the time, was that it had the words “Drink your effing water” printed on it, just below a very cute flamingo. When the product arrived, Charlie quickly noticed the issue with the ‘effing’ slogan. She took to social media to show others the product and gain support. She made a complaint immediately to Amazon, and so did I and others. 

My experience was fairly rapid, they emailed back after around 30 minutes to say the product had been removed. Whilst I think Amazon did the right thing pretty quickly once they realised the situation, it should not have got to the point where the listing was made.  It makes you wonder whether they sell anything else that breaks the ASA rules and regulations.

3. Brand Ambassador marketing – when you pay

If you follow me on social media you’ll know I love coffee. My photos often feature it. I suppose it was not surprising I was approached by a reusable coffee cup brand looking for brand ambassadors.  I have used the hashtag coffee and coffee time on lots of occasions and I’m sure that was all it was that caught their attention.

I’m not going to name and shame, because it looks like they are a genuine company, but my experience went something like this. “Hey! We are looking for coffee lovers to be brand ambassadors for our recycled coffee cup brand! Please message us on our main account”. Interestingly, when I just checked this DM sent on the 12th March, the person who sent it to me has since left Instagram.

So I politely followed up even though it felt a bit spammy. I then received a message from the main brand’s account:

“I would love to create a discount code for you, once you receive the mug we would love the opportunity to feature you on our Instagram account and tag you at your account!”

I was then offered 25% off the cup and informed they ship worldwide. This account currently has 412K followers. 

What is happening here is the account is a) generating free content for their account. I notice all of the ‘brand ambassadors’ involved are very photogenic with high-quality images used on their accounts.  b) generating sales through what is essentially a false pretence. I’d imagine that every person who buys a cup and expects that exposure on the account, gets relegated to a feature on stories, if they are lucky

4. Events marketing – without you, the event is doomed

Every so often I’ll see someone with a large social media account ranting about being invited to speak at a big event for free. Usually, these people have a large account because they have successful careers as authors, podcasters, journalists, or otherwise are experts in their field.  

There was a public case very recently where the journalist, campaigner and radio presenter Anna Whitehouse was asked to speak for free by a large media brand. If you are interested you can read all about it over on her account  As someone who has organised a lot of networking sessions with a guest speaker, there is usually a discussion when you offer the opportunity, grounded in the reality that we all need exposure for our small businesses.

People with daily exposure in national news sources do not need this exposure.  Whilst everyone deserves to be paid for their time, there is a difference between an event that will make the organisers a lot of money, and small gatherings that aid with networking and connections. 

Another example I’ve seen recently is a business expert who was posting on social media about being asked to speak at an event. The details were kept very shady, including the date of the event.  After more digging, it turned out that the event was an unpaid opportunity, and not only that but the audience of 100K promised to the business expert, would come from her and the other speakers attending the event.

To qualify for this opportunity she must possess a mailing list with over 5,000 names, which she would be expected to mail to sell the event!

I think we can all guess how that one ended.

5. Facebook groups should be about real community

The final item in this article is a bit of a roundup of some of the marketing methods to avoid, that I’ve seen over on Facebook.

There are lots of them but to name a few:

Paid-for Facebook membership

In a Facebook membership group, one of the members posted to say she had experienced a really good financial period for her business.  She was new to the group, only there on a trial basis, and the financial success had nothing at all to do with being a member of the group.

She was asked by the host if she might use the member’s comments as marketing.  The member rightly said “er no, I’ll pass” and what happens next? Of course, she is quoted in the marketing for the group as one of their success stories.

She complained and the item was removed….

Adding people to groups without their consent

I don’t know if this has happened to you yet, but people I know have been friended by random contacts from Facebook. As soon as they’ve accepted, because I think people often feel rude about ignoring a friend request, they’ve been added to spammy groups. 

I had a similar experience, where a Facebook friend who works for a network marketing brand told me she had added me to her exclusive Black Friday Facebook group…..without my permission and with the express intention of selling to me. I didn’t even reply and of course, left the group immediately.

Marketing methods to avoid – summary

To sum up, in this article I’ve covered the good and the bad of influencer marketing, rule-breaking advertising targeting children, fake brand ambassador marketing, unpaid events that you are expected to sell to your audience, and bad Facebook group practices. hopefully this has given you a good idea of things to look out for when making purchasing decisions and marketing methods to avoid in your own business.

Marketing methods to avoid, part 2

Good news! Next week, I will be publishing part 2 on this topic, this time written by Claudia Kozeny-Pelling, owner of Translate Digital Marketing. Claudia is a professional translator and ethical social media marketer.

Thank you for reading


About the author

Shona Chambers is a Marketing Consultant based in SE London, specialising in helping small business owners and freelancers with their marketing. YOu can find out more about her by visiting her website or following her on Instagram. This article was first published at