Guilt Trip Marketing: Does it Work or Backfire?

“Are you sure you want to unsubscribe? Our mascot is so sad!” “You don’t care about your fitness goals?” Do these messages bring customers back or turn them off?

We’ve all seen these passive aggressive pop-up ads that go something like this. They ask you to sign up for their newsletter or to get some offer and the answer is either “yes” or “No, I don’t want to save money,” “No, I don’t care about my pet’s health,” “No, I like having ugly hair”, etc. The tactic is so common, but does it actually work? According to some studies, it does, at a rate of 2-4% more sign-ups! However, while it may generate sign-ups in the short term, it may give your brand a negative impression in the long-term.

A variation on this tactic appears when you try to unsubscribe from an email list. There’s a sad face or another sad looking image, and/or you’re asked if you’re sure you want to unsubscribe. If you do feel guilty and change your mind, there are options to choose the types of emails you receive or the frequency of the emails. This has been shown to work, too!

Charities also induce a sense of guilt by showing images of starving or sick children or sad puppies. “You spend so much on coffee every month. Can’t you spare just x amount for our cause?” These appeals often work, although in this case it also calls on our sense of compassion as much as to a guilty conscience. Providing facts about the organisation won’t generate as much urgency as sad images will.

If you choose to guilt-trip your customers, what’s the most effective way to do it? While it often works, it’s important to think of your brand’s lasting image. Avoid being too insulting. “I don’t care about saving money” might be fine, but “I like wearing ugly clothes” is a bit over the top. Let customers know you’re sad to see them go from your email list, but give them clear options so they don’t feel they’re being forced into something. Sad appeals work to an extent if you’re raising funds for a cause, but again, avoid offending potential givers with personal attacks.


The passive aggressive pop-up
Please don’t unsubscribe!
If you don’t support my cause, you don’t care about starving kids, etc.
Using it effectively