20 Old Advertising Techniques That Would Be Shunned for Manipulative Tactics Today

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Advertising and marketing have evolved significantly in the last few decades. New techniques have resulted in some of the best advertisements that have convinced countless consumers. However, some tactics revolved around tricking and manipulating consumers using exploitative methods. These included promoting harmful substances, evoking their fears, and other pressure tactics. Here are 20 old advertising techniques that would be shunned for manipulative tactics today.

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Health Claims

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Nowadays, information is readily available and can be accessed by a single click on the Internet. Previously, when there was no way to cross-check information, people relied on mass media, whose false claims could lead to negative consequences. Some advertisements in the 20th century promoted smoking as a beneficial medium for the throat and digestion. Without solid evidence, such manipulative ads make viewers believe in fake health benefits.

Fear-Based Marketing

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At some point in our lives, we have always feared missing out, whether during our high school parties or trying sketchy products. However, using such cheap tactics puts consumers under immense stress in marketing. In medicinal products, insurance, purifiers, and hygiene-related goods, such fear-based marketing is used, which will manipulate the user into believing that they will face negative consequences for not purchasing it.

False Endorsements

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We live in a generation where people unquestioningly believe their favorite pop star or influencer online without making any effort to search for the products themselves. False endorsement is a popular advertising technique that pays famous personalities to pose as genuine customers. These personalities pitch for the product, which may harm quality and results. Such manipulative tactics are being reduced now as customers trust genuine reviews from fellow users. However, they are still very prevalent.

Sexist Advertising

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The world had overcome the age when women were confined to the house, and their sole purpose was to contribute all their talents to the home. It is well and good if she willingly chooses this path, but many ads from the 20th century depicted women as housewives whose function was to satisfy their husbands. Such ads perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes and lead to the subversion of women.

Racial Stereotypes

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Modern society has a strong stance against racial stereotypes and views such attempts as controversial. Using a particular ethnic group to promote a product using offensive caricatures dwarfs the whole concept of inclusiveness. Many ads used to portray certain groups wearing a fixed set of clothes, holding a particular occupation, and speaking in that accent, which indirectly tried to establish the product’s credibility. It may have worked in the past, but such ads would be met with harsh criticism and unethical advertising.

Biased Comparisons

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We all want the best value from the products that we buy. Hence, we are constantly in the quest for better options. An advertising technique from the past included misleading comparisons where products would be compared to their competitors, but the data would be distorted. As a result, viewers would be persuaded to believe in the biased portrayal and overlook the other cons of the coin. Such false comparisons can lead to legal action with a negative mark on the brand.

Disguised Advertising

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With affiliate marketing skyrocketing, everyone has been trying their hands at using deceptive patterns. Previously, many advertisements lured consumers into viewing their non-advertising content online or in person. In doing so, they used to double down on it by blending their promotional products. This tactic, without proper disclosure, often includes sponsored products and is widely tagged in editorial articles or social media posts.

Hidden Costs

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Imagine discovering an incredible deal on a product you have wished to purchase for a long time, only to find out your bill is twice the original price. Hidden costs are prevalent in advertising today, and to appease all views, a significantly reduced cost is presented. No one speaks about the numerous other charges on the bill, which include handling, shipping, delivering, subscription, and taxes. In contemporary times, transparency is crucial, and a breakdown of every charge is disclosed on the bill.

Targeting Children Unfairly

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If there is one section of the consumer base that, once lured, will lead to conversions, it is children. Their innocence makes them believe in attractive and glamorous things their favorite cartoon characters promote. Cigarette companies have used characters like the Flintstones to promote tobacco to children. Other examples include cartoon characters promoting excessive sugary meals and drinks. Such manipulative and harmful tactics are being shut down to mislead children and exploit them because of their limited judgment.

Degrading Advertising

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The competition in the industry is so fierce that marketing and advertising tactics transcend the products and involve direct or subliminal attacks. Advertisements by Sega through the 20th century are a prominent example of such advertising, which subliminally dissed the competitors. While these kinds of advertisements may be witty and humorous for the viewers, they undermine the spirit and relations among the brands. In present times, this form of rivalry has been somewhat reduced, but it is a popular way of making a statement.

Emotional Manipulation

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It is truly incredible how people change after being unable to channel their emotions. A lifelong meat eater becomes a vegan, and someone who always used leather products stops using them to protect animals. While these are the positive aspects, some manipulative ads evoke emotions such as guilt and pity to lure people into buying their product. They raise questions on moral standards and target the vulnerable audience who comply with their demands.

False Scarcity

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How many times have we been tricked into stocking up on “limited” edition products just for them to reappear on the shelves again? Early advertisements were used to create a sense of false scarcity, often using tactics that made the product seem like it would be available for a short duration. Due to the vast market, such manipulative tactics would not work, as the increasing demand is met by adequate production.

Bait and Upsell

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Whenever we come across incredibly cheap products, especially digital ones, there is a major chance that other add-ons will be attached. Previously, baiting the customer and later upselling more expensive items was a common technique, as the consumer base was unaware. Now, these may not necessarily be regarded as harmful because they require the skills of a seasoned salesperson to nail an upsell. Nonetheless, such tactics, which pressure consumers into buying unnecessary items, go against the principle of ethical upselling.

Misrepresentation of Ingredients

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There have been many legal cases where companies went bankrupt overnight for hiding harmful ingredients in their products. Some packaged food and drinks during the 1990s had only small amounts of nutritional value, which was exaggerated. The true value of the product is covered, and the true quantities are negligible. These misrepresentations undermine consumers’ trust, and they later suffer because of these inaccurate listings.


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Puffer, as the name suggests, is derived from the puffer fish, a term used to imply boastful and exaggerated advertising. Puffery may not necessarily mean false advertising, but it is undoubtedly misleading and manipulative. For example, many vehicles in the automotive industry use the tagline of the “safest” car manufactured while providing essential features. These subjective claims are not appreciated by the solution-aware consumer base of our times.

Authority Figures

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It is disappointing how many times fake doctors and invalid working professionals have appeared to promote a product. While some brands completely use fake actors, others use figures of authority like certified and renowned doctors to promote their products. By leveraging these figures, they tend to establish their credibility for their basic product that serves no benefits. People under this blissful impression and perceived authority without research tend to waste money on these products.

Shame-based Advertising

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Shaming tactics promote the fear of missing out and suggest social and personal failure. For example, some ads previously shamed women for not shaving their body hair and fed on their vulnerabilities. This shame-based advertising will now result in their cancellation, raising questions about the standards of conventional self-care.

Environmental Claims

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Conserving the environment is paramount, with global warming at its peak and irregular climate change. Previously, advertisements often capitalized on greenwashing, a process that involved overstating a product’s benefits to lure in eco-conscious buyers. They used to pledge benefits about recycling and sustainability, which were unsubstantiated claims. Environmental conservation has become a top priority nowadays, and many esteemed brands have been trying to promote eco-friendly solutions and remove plastic alongside other harmful materials.

Aggressive Sale Tactics

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Everyone has experienced a day when an irritating telemarketing call, forcing us to buy their products, caused significant havoc. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, telemarketing firms, alongside persistent door-to-door salesmen, used to camp outside our doors and resort to high-pressure sales tactics to sell their products. Their efforts are to be respected, but it becomes manipulative nowadays when their “too good to be true” deals are nothing but fake promises.

Invasion of Privacy

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Previously, when privacy laws still had significant loopholes, consumers were bombarded by calls for targeted marketing. Their data was leaked, and information such as phone numbers and email IDs was purchased from third-party sources. This has been significantly reduced with the laws imposed, like GDPR, that require transparent data collection. While these may not be primarily categorized as “manipulative,” there is a complete loss of trust in gathering personal information.

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