CONFIRMSHAMING: WHY WE NEED TO STOP USING THIS DARK PATTERN
One of my new favorite buzzwords in the web design and development community and one of the most common dark patterns I see on websites and sales pages.
According to DarkPatterns.org “Confirmshaming is the act of guilting the user into opting into something. The option to decline is worded in such a way as to shame the user into compliance.” Let’s look at some examples:
My intent here isn’t to call out any of these sites/companies specifically. The point is this dark pattern is nearly everywhere. And at first glance, it seems harmless, a quirky bit of copy to nudge the site user to take a certain action. You aren’t forcing them into anything, tricking them, or taking advantage of them so what is the harm right?
All of us would like to think that something as simple as a single line on a website would be a mere blip in our day, an amusement even. But it is so much more than that. Confirmshaming erodes the trust your site users have in your brand and your products.
Like most dark patterns this one has deeper implications than can be seen at first
Let’s be honest, there has probably been a metric ton of split testing, focus groups, ads statistics, and other marketing wizardry done that shows using confirmshaming is x% more likely to get a conversion or at least enough anecdotal evidence to convince thousands of copywriters and marketers to make it standard practice. If putting someone down for not taking the action you want didn’t work they wouldn’t do it.
Confirmshaming is one of the darlings of the internet marketing gurus (right up there with timers that don’t actually time anything, and the “know like and trust” factor”). But who wants to be the person that is MEAN to someone just because they don’t want whatever newsletter/freebie/up-sell you are offering? Wouldn’t you rather bring people to you who really want what you are offering and are enthusiastic about it?
So how did confirmshaming come about and why is it still used?
It all started with newsletters. Companies realized that direct marketing through the postal service was becoming less and less effective. So they began looking for new ways to get their offers directly in front of consumers. Email lists are the original crypto-currency and the value they hold to marketing companies has grown exponentially. Combine that with the demographic information collected by sites like Facebook and Google and it is a gold mine.
Now, the idea of a huge marketing list is pushed by marketing influencers and strategists. Even if someone never opens a single email you send them you can use that list to create targeted ads and keep your brand in front of them, increasing the number of touch points they have with your brand. The size of one’s email list is often more than just a vanity metric. Partnerships with brands and other influencers, being part of summits, and affiliate opportunities are only offered to those with large lists they can leverage on behalf of their sponsors.
According to digital marketing consultant Matthew Barby in an article on Vice.com companies’ values… “are based on metrics such as the size of their subscriber lists; this encourages them to prioritize the bulk of their lists above more sustainable measures of success, such as newsletter open rates.”
Once marketers realized this tactic worked to get people to take a low-risk/reward action they started trying it out other places
One of the most common places to see confirmshaming outside of an email opt-in is on an upsell or OTO page. The logic of this is if you have already made the decision to purchase something, given your card information, and taken the plunge you have already decided you “know, like, and trust” them. This makes the verbal jab even more potent as it is like being rejected by someone you know, not some random internet stranger. You don’t want your new friend to think badly of you, do you?
There are companies that make a ton of money figuring out exactly what words, what phrase, and even what color font is going to get the most “positive” action from a person. In fact, as an article in the Journal of Legal Analysis points out…
“Through A-B testing, firms now have opportunities to refine and perfect dark patterns that their Mad Men-era counterparts could have never imagined. By running tens of thousands of consumers through interfaces that were identical in every respect but one, firms can determine exactly which interface, which text, which juxtapositions, and which graphics maximize revenues. What was once an art is now a science. As a result, consumers’ ability to defend themselves has degraded.”(emphasis mine)
Confirmshaming isn’t new
Developers have been talking about it, and speaking out against it since as early as 2016. However, younger people have grown up around technology and are taking on more of the buying power. Between that and rising media awareness people are calling out confirmshaming more and more.
One of the reasons this is happening is that people are shopping online more and more. As such, the line between the online and real-world is starting to blur. No one is going to shop at a store that insults you every time you try to leave or decide not to take advantage of their impulse purchase at the register. Imagine going to lunch at a restaurant and you get to the end of your meal and instead of saying “anyone interested in dessert?” the server said, “what are you having for dessert or are you all too self-obsessed to have something delicious.” Yeah, that restaurant wouldn’t last long.
It’s the same with online businesses. Insulting people is insulting, and that’s going to turn people off. Especially if you are a small business or entrepreneur. Your connection to your audience or buyers has to be more personal than a Fortune 500 corp.
We need to push this dark pattern out of popularity
Like most dark patterns the bottom line is to make money and to make as much money as possible regardless of how we are treating people. The fact that it is not just big “faceless corporations” but course creators, coaches, solopreneurs, and small business owners using this tactic breaks my heart.
I know that most of the clients I work with do actually care about the people buying their products. They are not inherently mean or manipulative people, they are just doing what they have been told. This is what they think they should do to get people to buy their products and services. They use confirmshaming for the same reason they use a red button on their sales page even though it doesn’t match any of their brandings, or make sure that their prices end in a 7 or a 9.
I encourage you to take a look at all of your opt-ins, sales funnels, and ads and see if this dark pattern is lurking somewhere. Really think about the wording you use and how that would sound if you said it to someone face to face. If you need some help checking over your site or figuring out other ways to give people the option to decline an offer (which you should) feel free to reach out. I’m happy to help. This dark pattern needs to go!