Harmful marketing.md

I take issue with a lot of marketing techniques in use today.

Some things on this page may sound like I’m “judging poor people”. But I do understand that under financial pressure they don’t always have a choice. I still aim to inform them about the potential consequences both for themselves as well as the society they live in.

Promotional campaigns

  • Lower prices
    • Bigger players may be able to afford selling things at a loss (at the expense of investment or other branches of the business) for enough time to suppress smaller players in their industry, raising barrier to entry for potential competitors and then enjoying their comfortable position where incremental product updates are enough to keep raising prices
    • There may be additional income factors for the manufacturer that come into play after a product is sold
      • A classic in hi-tech goods is sale of consumers’ advertising profiles that consumers are strongarmed into consenting to, e. g. by regularly asking them without providing the option “no and never ask me again” (e. g. Google’s Play Protect) or just not providing certain features of the product outright (webOS-based TVs, e. g. by LG)
      • Sale of accessories or consumables may include an extra cut to soften the loss incurred on the base product.
        • Think games for a videogame console, or coffee capsules for a coffee machine, or ink for an inkjet printer, or a charger with a proprietary plug — if these things seem to cost way more than competition and aren’t compatible with anything but specific product by the same or associated manufacturer, this is usually why.
  • Discounts / cashback
    • The specified “original price” may never have been there — in some countries such practice is illegal, but can still be found because enforcement is difficult
      • Check similar offers by competitors to verify, or track price changes over time for the items in question
    • Especially big percentages should certainly raise eyebrows and warrant investigation into why would it be — for a particular brand it may mean that they massively overshot the price range for how much value they deliver, but, unlike a discount, a permanent price drop usually isn’t accompanied with a flashy label and might make the manufacturer look bad
  • Temporary subscription discounts
    • May be enticing in the moment, and quoted price is usually a discounted one, but for long-term such subscriptions easily turn into bad deals, especially if a discount is being suggested for a more expensive
  • Free {something} (shipping, refills, etc.)
    • Someone still gets paid for it, so you can safely assume it’s included in the price


I have an off-the-charts beef with this.

A good chunk of the advertisement industry today seems to be hell-bent on getting consumers into bad deals through various manipulative tactics. These tactics usually involve making us feel emotionally “bad” for not carrying out their intended action. Damage from individual cases isn’t really noticeable (when it is so blatant, the add is less effective), but it adds up over time. Tricks may vary from half-truths to exploitation of widespread mental issues (need for validation, ludomania).

Misleading advertising is resorted to only because it’s effective and because manipulation is hard to prove, thus reputational damage to the object of advertisement is minimal even in the vast majority of cases — emotional impact is quite hard to define in technical terms and thus hard to prove in court and hold the manipulating party accountable.

A good amount of misleading advertisement can be easily detected by considering funding for advertisements in question.

Proof of how useless most ads are to the consumer — the existence of ad/banner blindness.

Attachment to brands and franchises — akin to Ship of Theseus, it can retain the name while no longer sharing anything else with what sparked the attachment at the time, and this attachment is a convenient exploit.


By and large it’s additional stress that wears people down

  • Wasted resources (time, money, etc.)
    • Can refer to resources spent skipping an ad, getting less “bang for the buck” than was otherwise possible, etc.
      • Videogame industry is particularly plagued by this, with games barely evolving gameplay-wise and often releasing in an unstable state (due to widely available online update mechanisms game-breaking bugs are no longer that dangerous), but requiring ever increasing hardware power (mostly GPUs) and steadily increasing in price
  • Active fear of missing out (on promotions, availability, etc.) that can turn into feeling of guilt when an arbitrary timer runs out
    • Many scams commonly employ “creating a sense of urgency” to boost their success rate, but use of this technique isn’t limited to just scammers
  • Stress out of annoyance
    • If you’ve ever encountered something you’ve made up your mind about not being interested in and are forced to skip the ad somehow (like scrolling one minute forward through a sponsored spot on YouTube) — after a first hundred times it “gets old”
  • Reinforcment of unhealthy emotional conditions


Urging bad actors to cease is hopeless at this time — because they wouldn’t listen and because forcing them to cease threatens the freedoms of the society.

But people can be more resistant to their techniques when they know what these techniques are, and in the process become healthier and more positive.

  • Account for brands in your selection process
    • Avoid positive bias (assignment of a “plus”) solely because a brand is familiar
      • This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t associate a brand with anything positive at all, but don’t let this association lose its ground in specific likeable traits, which would turn it into liking a brand in general — and the brand in question may lose these traits as time goes on
    • Employ negative bias (assignment of a “minus”) for goods that use copious amounts of advertising
      • It may be seen as a little bit extreme, but it’s one way to counter familiarity with a brand that formed just through it being all over the place, since it’s very hard to consciously spot
  • Avoid frequenting places with ads
    • Yes, this includes major social networks of today, all of them; consider Fediverse if you’re open to that itch being scratched in another way
  • Use ad blockers where necessary
    • Consider the undesirable sides of the impact: if a certain source of useful goods relies on advertisement revenue
    • uBlock Origin for the browsers
    • Sponsorblock for YouTube skips over integrated sponsored spots with the help of a community-maintained database


Links are present where available, but most of this page I’ve shaped based on my own related experiences.

Arguing with a TV

I’ve grown up in a household that often had a TV on, and advertisements were so comically manipulative that at one point I started arguing out loud with the announcer in the ad. Not constructively, just spitefully contradicting them.

At one point my parents questioned whether I really knew what I was talking about or was just playing contrarian for giggles. And I knew it was the latter. So instead I gradually started turning my attention to whether the ad conveys any information other than raw positivity and whether that information has any inconsistencies in it, whether in its message or in what’s implied by its existence (exorbitant cost of TV ads necessitating large revenue being one of them).

Mental health

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