Are some copywriters’ techniques unethical?

I’ve been reading Maria Veloso’s excellent Web Copy That Sells. Much of her advice is in line with standard copywriting principles, but Maria also strays into Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in her quest to write copy that sells.

Maria discusses embedded commands, presuppositions, linguistic binds and reframing as methods for writing irresistible copy. All of these techniques, if properly applied, can work to persuade your reader without them quite knowing why they’ve been persuaded. In Maria’s own words:

“These are tactics that fly beneath the radar of your readers’ perception, producing an almost hypnotic effect that actually makes them want to buy what you are selling – often without knowing why.”

Maria goes on to counsel copywriters to use these techniques “discreetly, responsibly and ethically”, but is it really possible to use such techniques ethically? Are they not unethical by their very nature?

I’m not saying I think Maria’s techniques are unethical; I’m just asking the question because it seems like a very grey area. Even if you’re selling something wonderful and your customers will indeed be better off for buying it, surely that’s for them to decide. If you use tricks that work on a reader’s subconscious, are you not taking away part of their ability to make a rational choice? At what point, if any, does persuasive copy become unethical?

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