How to Use Manipulation in Marketing Ethically

Manipulation is the ability to change the behavior or perception of others in clever or unscrupulous ways. For many, the word has negative connotations, so the idea that manipulation can be used for marketing conjures up images of scare tactics and deception.

While marketing involves some manipulation, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Done ethically, manipulation in marketing is an effective tool for boosting your brand. Done incorrectly, however, manipulation can hurt your long-term business goals.

Manipulation in Marketing

Your mind navigates through your day with a subconscious understanding of the world around you. There’s so much information floating around that your mind must absorb, filter and process to make assumptions that guide your decisions. Because of this, your subconscious develops perceptions and beliefs on nearly everything you encounter.

In marketing, this fact is paramount. Large brands create omnipresence with traditional and digital media to nurture attachments between you and their products. When the targeting is correct, this can help brands earn lifelong customers and grow.

Manipulation has always been part of marketing, but the stakes are much higher now than they ever were before. With the widely accessible algorithms on search engines and e-commerce platforms, anyone can be targeted or retargeted easily for manipulation into buying.

For the marketer, understanding and utilizing targeting gives you a chance to manipulate your audience into choosing your brand and buying your product or service. Fortunately, you also have the opportunity to manipulate them in a way that is ethical and fair, rather than by deception.

Ethical Manipulation

Manipulation in marketing is just part of the equation, no matter how you choose to approach your strategy. It’s not a question of whether manipulation will factor into your strategy, but rather how it will factor in.

Regardless of how you feel about manipulation on the whole, it’s just a part of marketing that you must accept. There’s no reason to feel guilty or feel as though you’re deceiving anyone, because ethical manipulation has the ability to positively impact your audience and improve the lives of your customers.

As a consumer, you’ve likely experienced ethical manipulation. If you’ve ever been influenced by a campaign you saw, found new products that you liked or discovered new thought leaders on social media, it was a result of manipulation and targeting.

How to Use Manipulation in Marketing Ethically

Using manipulation effectively and ethically starts by knowing your product or service, as well as your customers, inside and out. You have to ask yourself what your product or service offers, how it helps, what kind of impact it can have and other questions that put you in the mindset of your customers.

Then, you need to think like your customers. Who are they? What do they do? What problems do they need solved? What are their largest pain points? What do they need that has yet to be addressed in a meaningful way?

In doing this, you can learn a little more about your customer and what you can offer them. This not only helps you deliver the right message to the right audience, but it also gives you pride, passion and commitment in the product or service you’re offering.

You may also need to show them their problems and pain points, just so they’re aware of them and will begin to seek the solution you’re providing. You’re guiding them through the process and giving them the tools they need to overcome their problems.

Helping your audience requires a little bit of manipulation, but there’s a way to do it that best serves your customers. The ethical way to approach manipulation includes:

If you stick to these ideas, your marketing manipulation will always be ethical, putting the customer first and prompting them to take the action they need. Outdated marketing tactics used to rely on insecurities, scare tactics, deception or aggression to get the job done, but taking this approach doesn’t serve your customers well and only diminishes their trust over time.

Tips for Ethical Marketing Manipulation

There are a number of ways to use manipulation and consumer psychology to ethically, legally and respectfully attract and engage your customers. Here are some tips to add ethical manipulation and influence to your campaign strategy and message:


At its most basic, manipulation is a type of social action that seeks to influence the perception of behavior. Whether this is achieved through deceitful, deceptive or aggressive tactics is a different story, since these tactics only undermine a brand’s image over time. In addition, there’s little evidence to suggest that these tactics provoke action in consumers, despite their widespread usage.

Without deceptive or aggressive tactics, manipulation in marketing that focuses on value for the customer can be a useful strategy for long-term, sustainable business growth and success. By considering the customers’ needs and desires, nurturing trusting relationships and weighing the long-term and short-term motivations and their impact on the audience, businesses can use manipulation to influence their audience and deliver exceptional value to the customer base.