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How to Identify and Avoid Dark Patterns in Digital Marketing?

How to Identify and Avoid Dark Patterns in Digital Marketing?

Due to the intensely competitive business environment, many companies and brands often employ unfair techniques to generate high revenue and expand their global footprints. Such deceptive methods and unethical practices are commonly referred to as Dark Patterns. 

You might already know that ‘dark patterns’ are increasingly becoming a part of digital marketing. While not always obvious, many digital platforms are rife with these deceptive design elements.

What are the Dark Patterns in Digital Marketing?

In digital marketing, Dark Patterns are user interfaces, design elements, and different techniques used by companies on their websites or apps to manipulate and trick users into taking actions and making decisions they might not want. 

According to a report by the European Commission, 97% of the most popular websites and apps deployed at least one dark pattern. 

Another study conducted by Harry Brignull found that 92% of websites use dark patterns to manipulate user behaviour. To your surprise, Google, Amazon, and Meta were also found to be using dark patterns to discourage users from opting out of data collection.  

Here are common examples of dark patterns in digital marketing to help you recognise and steer clear of them.

1. Trick Questions

These questions are designed to trick users into giving an answer they didn’t intend. For example, Do you want to opt out of sharing your personal information? This question is a trick because it is unexpectedly phrased. Users who do not wish to share their information may be confused by the word ‘opt-out’ and accidentally answer “No”.

2. Nagging

Nagging repeatedly asks users for the same task they have declined multiple times. For example, many websites keep popping up a window asking users to sign up for a newsletter, no matter whether the user has clicked “No.” 

3. Disguised ads

These ads are designed to look like something else, such as news articles, social media posts, or user interface elements, also known as Hiding or Disguising ads. For example, using similar fonts, colours, and formatting in the ads, like the editorial content, using misleading headlines, making ads identical to user interface elements, such as buttons or links, etc. 

4. Bait and Switch

It involves offering users one thing, such as a free trial or a discount, but then switching them to something else, such as a paid subscription or higher price, without even consent and informing them. For example, Several software companies provide a 15-day free trial for select tools but require you to enter debit card details before granting access. To your surprise, it may automatically transition you to a paid subscription, sometimes even before the trial period ends and without prior notification.

5. Roach Motel

This makes it easy for users to sign up for a service but challenging to cancel. For example, a website might hide the cancellation link in a hard-to-find place or require users to call customer service to cancel.

It is crucial to understand that dark patterns are more than just a problem for consumers. While it may appear advantageous for companies in the short term, such practices can ultimately harm consumer satisfaction and prove detrimental over the long run. Users who feel deceived will never return to the company, and it will also generate negative word of mouth. 

Companies, especially those with renowned reputations, should avoid using dark patterns in their marketing and focus on ethical and transparent practices. 

But, How? This guide will explore all methods to identify and avoid dark patterns in Digital Marketing. 

Identifying Dark Patterns

  1. Hidden Information or Cost: 

Check if all the crucial information, such as extra costs and terms and conditions for the subscription, is visible clearly and not hidden in the fine print. If these things appear at the last step, that’s a dark pattern. 

  1. Misleading Call-to-Action Buttons:

Sometimes call to actions buttons appear as system messages to trick or mislead users into clicking them. 

  1. Confirm Shaming:

Several times, users face guilt-tripping questions into opting for something. For example, Popping messages like “No, I don’t want to save money”. 

  1. Pre-Checked Boxes:

Pre-checked boxes can often be seen during online interactions like signing up for a service or completing a purchase. These boxes are usually related to subscribing to a newsletter, accepting terms, or agreeing to additional purchases or charges, such as adding extra items to the cart—and are pre-checked by default. 

  1. Opt-out Complexity:

 If opting out of a service or subscription is unnecessarily complex, it’s likely a dark pattern.

Avoiding Dark Patterns

  1. Transparency: 

You should always be transparent about costs, terms and conditions of service, and what clicking a button or option will entail. 

  1. Simple Opt-Outs or Exit

Make it easy for users to opt out of services, subscriptions, or emails. A complex opt-out process can frustrate customers and doubt their return to the brand again. 

  1. Ethical Design:

Always use designs and elements that enhance the user experience rather than tricking users into specific actions that they don’t wish to take.

  1. Legal Compliance

Whether you’re a marketer or brand owner, you should always ensure that your digital marketing tactics comply with regulations such as GDPR, CAN-SPAM Act, or any other local laws regarding user consent and data protection.

  1. Explicit Language

Always use clear and straightforward language that communicates the offer or choice without ambiguity or confusion.

  1. User Testing

Conduct ethical tests and UX reviews to avoid inadvertently employing dark patterns.

  1. Customer Feedback

Keep an open channel for customer feedback, such as customer feedback on WhatsApp and text messages. Users will often point out dark patterns you may have yet to identify.

  1. Continuous Monitoring

The digital landscape is constantly changing. What might be considered acceptable today could become a dark pattern tomorrow as norms and regulations evolve. Hence, continuous monitoring will help you to detect instantly.

In conclusion, while we cannot pinpoint how many companies use dark patterns in their marketing, it is evident from Harry Brignull’s study that dark patterns are alarmingly common. The study also found that bounce rates are 85% higher on websites that use dark patterns. 

Steering clear of these manipulative tactics is not just beneficial for consumers—it’s a crucial practice that can boost a brand’s long-term trustworthiness and reputation. As we navigate the complex digital landscape, ethical marketing always stands out.

We at ‘Get Marketed’ underscore the importance of transparent and consumer-friendly strategies that foster enduring brand-consumer relationships. Our professionals and experts craft honest and effective marketing campaigns without resorting to misleading tactics. 

For more insights on building a solid and ethical online presence, explore our articles on social media strategies. They provide valuable guidance on connecting with your audience genuinely and respectfully, the cornerstone of any successful digital marketing plan.

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