Online marketing is tricky business, whether you’re selling parts washers by Chemfree or plush toys. The pressure to generate sales and make a profit sometimes results in unethical marketing strategies. While these tricks may result in short-term profits, ultimately they do a business more harm than good.

The Forceful Hard Sell

Making a hard sales pitch is fine, as long as the sell doesn’t cross the line into insulting or vaguely threatening statements. Businesses who suggest potential customers are idiots for not purchasing a product hope to shame people into buying, although the tactic is more likely to drive off customers than generate sales.

Other sales pitches use scare tactics to close sales, suggesting the customer will somehow suffer without the product. “Without Uberhair for men you’ll never get a woman!” or “Failure to use our investment system causes bankruptcy” are examples of this type of marketing.

It’s fine to list a product’s advantages, and even the disadvantages of not using a product. As soon as a marketing strategy starts to insult or threaten customers, it’s crossed an ethical line.

Padding the Mailing List

Here’s a hypothetical situation. No, scratch that, because this situation isn’t hypothetical — it happens all the time. You email a company asking a question about its product, or perhaps engage in a one-time interaction with that company. Suddenly you’re barraged with email offers, product updates and other messages you never asked for. Why? Because the company uses any excuse to pad its mailing list.

Any company that does this is guilty of spamming. If you responded to an offer, then they can add you to their mailing list, but only if they tell you they’re doing so and give you the option of opting-out. Emailing a company to ask if their product comes in blue does not give them permission to start spamming you.

Deliberately Misleading Privacy Policies

Online companies need to have privacy policies. Ideally, a privacy policy lays out, in plain English, what the company indents to do with customer information, and how the customer can opt-out of that use if desires.

In practice, many privacy policies look like they were written by a committee of lawyers and particle physicists. The language is confusing, rambling and open to multiple interpretations. Such privacy policies imply that your information is safe, but a closer read reveals the company is actually selling your personal information to a small collective of information brokers located in northern Nigeria.

Sell ‘Em One Thing, Give ‘Em Another

Businesses selling products online sometimes deliver products significantly different from the items they describe on their website. For instance, the customer may purchase what seems to be a book on dog-taming, only to discover the deliverable product is a link to an ebook or webpage.

In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with selling an ebook — as long as the customer knows he’s buying an ebook. Yes, the ebook may contain all the information you’d get in a real book, but that isn’t the point. When you order a book, you should receive a book. Anything else is a rip-off.