The 5 essential tenets of ethical copywriting

ethical copywriting

We all know that words have the power to incite action, but do you ever wonder how the words you’re using might impact your reader?

Have you ever written a sales page and felt an overwhelming sense of ick?

Perhaps your audience isn’t receptive to traditional marketing tactics which persuade with pushy language. Or maybe you own a fashion business with strong sustainability ethics, and you’re not sure how this should translate into your content.

Whatever your case may be, you know that you’re done with talking down to your customers, and persuading with false urgency and potentially even…lies.

Welcome. It’s time to take a more considered and ethical approach to your copywriting, which is what I’m going to explore in the rest of this post.

But firstly: like any important part of your marketing strategy, you need to understand the psychology behind the decisions we use, and what we can do to ensure that we’re acting with integrity and authenticity.



Confessions of a shopaholic

When I was 18 I received my first credit card. Armed with what I wrongly perceived to be free money from the bank, I quickly swiped it with wild abandon, filling my closet with new shoes and my mind with consumer guilt.

By the time I was 25 I’d cultivated enough self-awareness to realise that I’d developed a dangerous shopping addiction, and had taken steps to curb it and quash my debt.

I’m now 30 and looking back, one might wonder how a communications professional could lack the knowledge to see through modern day marketing tactics. Although I’m privy to these strategies that play on our emotions to persuade us to purchase, I too was subject to the need to be better. Prettier. To fill my life with things that held the promise of improving my quality of life, but in reality, did little to bolster my self worth after the novelty wore off.

It’s shallow, yes, but it’s also all too common.

According to, the average Australian with an income of $101k to $150k per annum has over $5k of credit card debt accruing interest.

The data also found that respondents with no income hold a similar level of debt — $3,774 in credit card debt on average.

So why do we buy the things we don’t need, with money that we don’t have?


Manufacturing desire 

Ever wonder where the concept of brushing your teeth daily comes from?

You can thank Claude C. Hopkins for that.

As one of the pioneers of modern advertising, old Claude was the brain behind the many advertising tactics that influence our purchasing decisions – both past and present.

Namely, he pioneered the idea of manufacturing hope over fear, which I explored in this post on using positive language.

Hopkins strongly believed that the better way to motivate consumers was not through making them afraid, but through imagining possibilities. 

Claude c hopkins pears ad ethical copywriting

And so, manufacturing desire was born, and the idea that we can buy a better version of ourselves.


Authenticity, awareness and ethics in business

We know that as a business it’s our goal to generate a profit – no matter how small or large we may be.

In order to thrive and not just survive, we need to be increasing our profits year after year, persuading our customers to click on things, hand over their credit card details, and return to us again ready to spend some more.

And yet in 2019, we feel a renewed sense of purpose to be of service, to add value, and to empower our customers with knowledge to make informed choices.

We want a better approach to marketing, and we want to use our words to grow our businesses, without the guilt that accompanies snake oil selling.

Does that sound like you?

Here are the 5 essential tenets of ethical copywriting to keep in mind when crafting your next sales page, Instagram caption or email.



The 5 essential tenets of ethical copywriting



Making people feel at home with your business is a sure fire way to move them from semi-aware consumer, to engaged and committed brand advocate.

But how do we bridge that divide?

You can form a connection with your customers by making simple use of writing in first person – that’s “I” and “we” and “you”. By speaking in first person, you place yourself on your customer’s level, anchor yourselves in the present moment, and imbue your copy with a sense of togetherness. You’ll also put a bit of authorship to your copy, which is easier to connect with than “authorless” content. 

Beyond micro-level changes, also consider the art of story telling and strategic content marketing. By developing a consistent content plan, you can create a narrative that helps your dream customer learn more about you, and eventually, grow to love you.



Behind-the-scenes secrets offer a sneak-peek into your world, assuring your customers that you don’t just talk the talk, but you walk the walk. Customers want to know and trust you before they do business with you, and letting them into your domain allows them to do this.

You don’t have to offer up a list of suppliers or provide a P&L statement, but you do need to back up your claims with concrete data.

Are your products made from sustainable materials? How and why? Where are they made? And who makes them?

If you’re a service provider, what brand names have you worked for? Do you have a testimonial? How about a case study?

One company that excels in transparency is Unbounce with their blog Inside Unbounce, positioned as “a staff-written un-curated window into our journey, and the lessons learned along the way.” 

inside unbounce ethical copywriting.png

I’m also a huge fan of Profit Planner’s Income Reports, which allow other business owners to see exactly how a start up grows and makes a profit.

Even a simple Instagram post introducing your staff is a great way to pull back the curtain, like The Digital Picnic does once a week.


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Simple pricing

Rounding down numbers is a simple psychological tactic used to make consumers believe an item is cheaper than what it really is. That’s why items are priced at $3.99 in the supermarket, or an ecourse sells for $497.

While it’s completely legal and some may argue not inethical, you’re essentially selling an item for $500, but making people believe that they are not by changing the way they interpret the cost.

Economist Tim Harford explain this effect in his book The UnderCover Economist. It’s called the left-digit-deficit, which suggest that consumers don’t pay attention to the last digits of a price. 

The mind puts the most emphasis on the number on the far-left, so even though $497 is closer to $500, it's the "4" that registers.

Make of this what you will, but to me—and perhaps other conscious consumers—round prices make for a more accurate and ethical pricing strategy.


Credit sources 

There’s a lot of false information out there, and a lot of bold claims that contain SOME truth. Like studies that use skewed data, or studies with small sample sizes.

Do you ever make bold claims about the efficacy of your services or products? Refer to statistics about your dream customers problems?

It’s important to always attribute your claims to a reliable source, be it a person, a study or your own Google Analytics dashboard. Grounding your facts and data in qualified truth will help you appear more credible and confident, because you’ll know that what you’re saying is accurate.


No matter your brand voice, it’s essential that you treat your customers with the respect they deserve. Be honest, be transparent, but most of all, honour those who keep your business afloat. Your success depends upon them.


Do you need help engaging with your conscious customers? I’m here for it.

I'm Camilla Peffer, and I'm a Melbourne copywriter who creates engaging, results-driven content for fashion and lifestyle brands. From website copywriting, to fashion copywriting, content strategies and SEO audits, I've created clicks and conversions for the likes of Sportsgirl, Seed Heritage, CoYo, Ralph Lauren and Politix. Want to work together? Reach out! I'd love to hear about your next project.