What is 'Dark Marketing' and why is it important to master

Marketing is an omnipresent force in our lives, influencing our choices, shaping our desires, and sometimes, playing on our insecurities.

You, as a founder of (presumably) a SaaS product, know this is important to understand and to use for your own benefit.

So, you're in luck. As a marketer, I'd like to unveil a secret to you. The secret that every great marketer knows, but few share. It's the secret to influence and manipulate the minds of your customers.

It's called, 'Dark Marketing'.

This phenomenon goes beyond simple advertising tactics. It delves into psychological manipulation and the exploitation of human emotions to drive consumer behavior.

I want to preface this by quickly saying 'dark marketing' isn't necessarily a bad thing. But (and this is the first marketing hack I'll share with you), negative feelings drive engagement. So simply by calling it 'dark', it triggers something in a person. Likely a feeling of unjustness, morbid curiosity, or even disgust.

Andrew Tate is a person who uses techniques in dark marketing really well, for example. I wrote a large article explaining his whole communication style that you can read after this to further understand the topic.

But like I said, it isn't necessarily a bad thing. I like to think of it like The Force in Star Wars. It's a force that's real, and it's up to you to wield that power with responsibility. Luckily, the universe has aligned its rules to do just that. As you'll see further down, this force works best when it's authentic. So if you genuinely mean well with your product or service and merely apply what you'll learn in this post, you'll not feel bad about it. In fact, the opposite.

But first, what is Dark Marketing?

The dark side of marketing refers to strategies that manipulate consumers’ feelings and insecurities to encourage sales. Unlike traditional marketing, which focuses on highlighting the benefits and features of a product or service, this approach leverages psychological tactics to create a perceived need or solve a problem that the consumer may not have been consciously aware of. It's a complex game of influencing consumer behavior by tapping into their deepest fears, desires, and insecurities, often leading individuals to make decisions not out of genuine need, but out of a subconscious response to these manipulated emotions.

So how does this communication work psychologically?

The psychological mechanisms behind dark marketing are rooted in our basic human nature. You can use a variety of tactics to tap into our psyche, including:

  1. Creating a sense of urgency: Suggesting that an opportunity is limited can make us fear missing out, prompting quicker decisions.
  2. Exploiting social proof: We're more likely to want something if we see others (especially those we admire) using or endorsing it, tapping into our need for social belonging.
  3. Triggering emotional responses: Ads that make us feel happy, sad, nostalgic, or fearful can create strong associations with a product or brand.
  4. Utilizing the principle of scarcity: Making something seem rare or limited in availability can increase its perceived value, leveraging our fear of loss.
  5. Presenting solutions to insecurities: By highlighting our flaws (real or perceived), marketers present their products as the key to achieving our ideal selves.

Now these are techniques you can use. But these techniques are rooted in the psychology of human minds. Some are:

  • Desire: At its core, marketing feeds on the desire for a better life, status, or appearance. It paints a picture of a more desirable reality, attainable through specific products or services.
  • Fear: One of the most potent emotions leveraged in marketing is fear—fear of missing out, fear of inadequacy, fear of failure. By tapping into these fears, marketers compel consumers to buy as a means of avoidance or protection.
  • Insecurity: Marketing often highlights personal insecurities, subtly suggesting that happiness, acceptance, and success are just a purchase away. This can range from concerns about appearance to anxieties about social status or lifestyle.
  • Nostalgia: By evoking a longing for the past, marketers can create a warm, comforting association with their products, making them seem like a bridge to simpler, happier times.
  • Aspiration: Marketing also plays on aspirations, showcasing the ideal life or self that consumers dream of. This can be particularly effective in luxury branding, where the product is positioned as a symbol of achieving one's dreams.

The influence of marketing extends beyond individual emotions, impacting societal norms and expectations. It shapes our perceptions of success, beauty, and happiness, often setting unrealistic or homogeneous standards. This not only affects consumer behavior but also contributes to broader cultural and social dynamics.

But there's a catch. You see, people are great at smelling bullshit. So when you apply these tactics willy-nilly, they won't nearly work as well as when you apply them authentically.

Let's dive into that.

Authenticity matters

At its core, authentic marketing transcends the mere exchange of goods and services for money; it's about creating a connection. This connection is forged when consumers feel that brands understand them not just as buyers, but as individuals with unique stories, challenges, and aspirations. When marketing messages are grounded in authenticity, they resonate on a deeper emotional level, making the underlying psychological tactics more effective because they are perceived as relevant, helpful, and sincere.

Marketing that comes from an authentic place often includes narratives and messages that reflect real consumer experiences. This approach not only validates those experiences but also shows a brand's commitment to understanding its audience. By highlighting the real challenges, aspirations, and successes of its customers, a brand can show that its products or services are not just commodities but tools for real-life improvement. This alignment between brand messaging and consumer reality enhances the effectiveness of marketing, making it feel less like manipulation and more like a supportive guide.

So why does it still feel a bit wrong? Especially when you play on people's emotions like fear or desire?

I think it's important to only do this if you can and will genuinely help them.

While it's true that marketing often plays on fears and desires, doing so authentically means acknowledging and addressing these emotions in a way that respects the consumer's intelligence and autonomy. Authentic marketing does not exploit insecurities; rather, it offers genuine solutions and support. By presenting products or services as a means to realistically achieve aspirations or alleviate fears, brands can foster a more positive and empowering decision-making process among their audience.

How to apply 'dark marketing' techniques

So how can you refine your marketing and copy on your website and emails to better connect and influence your customers?

The easiest way is to ask yourself a few questions. Like:

Does our message align with our core values?
Consider whether your marketing message reflects the fundamental values and mission of your brand. Does it communicate what you stand for in a way that feels genuine and consistent?

Who is our target audience, and what truly matters to them?
Delve deep into understanding your audience beyond demographics. What are their fears, desires, challenges, and aspirations? How does your product or service fit into their lives in a meaningful way?

How does our product or service genuinely benefit the customer?
Evaluate the real-world impact of what you're offering. Are you highlighting benefits that matter to your audience, or are you focusing on features that may not resonate on an emotional level?

Are we addressing our audience's needs and concerns authentically
Consider whether your message acknowledges the audience's pain points and offers solutions in a way that feels sincere and not exploitative.

Does our messaging empower and uplift our audience?
Reflect on whether your marketing encourages positive emotions and outcomes for your audience. Does it empower them to make informed decisions, or does it play on fears and insecurities?

How do real customers talk about our product or service?
Look at customer testimonials, reviews, and feedback. Does your marketing message reflect the language and sentiments of your actual customers, or is there a disconnect?

So, I hope you realize that while it's often called 'dark marketing' it doesn't have to be dark. Unfortunately, some bad actors use the same techniques to influence and manipulate for the wrong reasons. But that doesn't mean influencing and manipulating are inherently bad.

Using these techniques will no doubt elevate your marketing results. As will using our tool for all your SaaS communication ;)

Carlo D'Agnolo
CarloFounder & Head of Growth at Plunk