Here at Ardea Creative, our goal is to produce values-led work with like minded individuals. This is at the core of everything we do and is present at every stage of our process when collaborating with clients. In this post, our copywriter Jasmine explores exactly what we mean by Ethical Copywriting and demonstrates how you can avoid the most common pitfalls of unethical copy.
Ever tried to write a professional bio for your marketing and found that putting what you do into the right words somehow feels impossible?
It can be difficult to know how to effectively communicate what we do and the impact it has. I first realised my own skill for capturing the essence of other people’s story when a massage therapist I’d met travelling told me she was struggling to describe what she does.
Whilst on a walk in a beautiful forest, I sat down with her and asked her to tell me all about her work; what she loves about it, how it makes people feel, what experience she has. I took notes and then went away and whipped up a professional bio for her, distilling a long conversation into just 3 sentences!
She told me that it was the first time she could confidently describe what she did to others because I’d got right to the heart of it, why it’s important and explained it clearly and concisely in a way that made sense to the kinds of people that need her work. This sowed a little seed for the direction I would go with my own career in copywriting and marketing.
I call myself an Ethical Copywriter, but what exactly do I mean by that?
Summing up my own professional role has been a lot harder than doing it for others! It comes naturally for me when setting out to write someone else’s copy, once I’ve gathered all the appropriate information from my client and done some research, I get into the flow and it just pours out.
But it took me years of trying to figure out how to describe my work. I wanted to make it clear that my approach to copywriting and marketing is wildly different to many others in the online business space. In the end, I settled on the term: “Ethical Copywriter.”
To me, “Ethical Copywriter” means caring deeply about the words you use and the impact they have. It means using language to challenge existing power structures and trying your best not to cause harm. It means being willing to unlearn, own mistakes and re-learn.
I believe that all marketing should aim to tell meaningful stories free from manipulation, shaming, scarcity tactics, breadcrumbing and other unethical bro-marketing tactics. The B2B marketer defines bro-marketing as “Aspiration marketing using inflated imagery or statements to present a desirable future or unmissable value. It reveals itself in self serving, short-sighted, toxic business traits.” It sounds terrible but you’d be surprised how many well-meaning people are using or teaching bro-marketing tactics across industries.
Making sales should be about giving all the necessary information to someone so that they can make an informed and confident decision about choosing to work with you. It should never be about tricking them into it to make a quick buck. I would hate for someone to invest in my work based on grandiose claims, false promises, manipulative strategies and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
Ethical Copywriting helps potential clients to truly choose you!
I want the people I work with to choose me and my business because they feel excited about collaborating with us and are sincerely aligned with Ardea’s values. We’re fairly picky ourselves and choose very carefully when it comes to the kinds of projects and businesses we sign up to work with.
We want potential clients to do the same with us. When both client and service provider decide to work together based on mutual respect and genuine interest in each other’s approach, the whole process ends up effective, smooth and an exciting creative collaboration that everyone benefits from.
I’ve seen many well-meaning entrepeneurs, coachs and companies using or teaching bro-marketing tactics across industries. Many of these tools, such as manipulation, shaming, scarcity tactics and unrealistic grandiose claims seem to be the go to in an effort to grow community in online spaces.
But to build the resilient communities needed to respond to today’s challenges and to implement truly ethical business practices, we need to reflect on how we speak to our audiences. Next, let’s take a closer look at how to avoid common unethical copywriting techniques as many people find it easiest to understand what ethical copywriting is by establishing a clear idea of what it is not.
Here are some examples of what unethical copy can look like:
Lack of Transparency.
This is something you’ll see a lot of in greenwashing campaigns where corporate brands use nasty tricks to mislead customers that care about their environmental impact into buying from them when really, their goods are not at all sustainable.
Transparency means being honest about things like every step of the supply chain. It can also be about acknowledging your privilege so that rather than a business coach claiming they have the secret winning formula to make it to 6-figures that “anyone can follow”, they’d be transparent about the fact they could only make it work because they already had the financial security to take risks in the first place.
Making grandiose claims that could shame the reader.
This is a big one used in the coaching and even wellness industry. Think things like “the only thing standing in the way of you and your dream life is yourself.” Most recently, the creative director of PrettyLittleThing Molly Mae faced legitimate criticism for claiming that “everyone has the same 24 hours in the day.” Molly Mae makes £275ph whilst workers in PLT’s parent company BooHoo make £3.50ph.
Both of these examples totally bypass the fact that we are not all operating from the same place of privilege and many of the harmful systems which govern us have a disproportionately negative impact on certain groups of people.
For example, someone who is facing poverty, disability, chronic illness or oppression in any form has a lot more standing in the way of their “dream life” than their own mindset or implied lack of commitment, and their 24 hours in a day will look very different to an able-bodied person with financial security who owns their own property and has a nanny for childcare.
Speaking as an absolute authority.
Tons of business coaches will tell you to speak as an authority and show up as an expert to make people trust you. Speaking as an absolute authority who is always right and must never be questioned is very different to being vocal about your training and specialisms.
I don’t trust someone who speaks with unquestionable authority and seems to be closed off to feedback, do you? What really builds trust for me, and I’m sure many others, is when someone prioritises choice and consent, and is open to not always being right.
The spaces I have felt most safe in are the ones where the space holders/ leaders say they are committed to repair work and welcome feedback if ever they unintentionally cause harm. They make it clear that intention is different to impact and that they are human and may get it wrong. They also make it clear that if they do make mistakes, they will be accountable for putting it right as best they can.
The crux of it is that Ethical Copy is trauma-informed with an awareness of power imbalances and structural inequalities.
I could write and speak about this all day as it’s a topic I am incredibly passionate about so I’m sure there’ll be more to come, but for now I’m going to leave it there. Hopefully this blog post has been food for thought and as always, we love hearing from you so let us know in the comments if you have anything to add to this conversation!
As an ethical copywriter I do brand voice creation, strategic copywriting for web and brand messaging mentorships. You can follow me on LinkedIn here, and learn more about my role at Ardea here.
I’d like to credit some of my learnings and professional development to the work of human-first business coach, Rachel Turner and trauma-informed therapist Alyssa Pressman who I completed the “Closer” course with for entrepreneurs at the end of 2021 where we got to discuss a lot of these topics in group calls.
Photography by Saya Rose Media