When dreams get dangerous: envy marketing in the digital age

When copywriter Emma Rundle posted her frustration at the get-rich-quick marketing we all see on Facebook it attracted such a response we asked her to write a piece on it for us. These are her words.

It’s a strategy as old as advertising itself: creating ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) has long been the marketers dream.

But it’s one thing to drool over your dream car whizzing round a mountainside on TV, and quite another to be reading someone’s carefully crafted social media post about why they are so happy in business (and, between the lines, why you might not be).

Since the advent of social media, envy marketing has become a very real green-eyed monster. It no longer focuses on what we dream of materially, it calls into question our self-esteem, our credibility and risks the state of our mental health.

Why one Facebook ad finally tipped me over the edge

Think I’m being dramatic? Here’s an example of my reaction to a post I saw on Facebook one weekday morning and what it led to.

“I have two reasons for posting this morning. My peace of mind and your mental health. Over breakfast, I’ve scrolled through Facebook only to come across an advert from someone claiming to be a successful (6-figures no less) copywriter. She wants you to sign up for free training to also become ‘filthy rich’ (her words).

She says you can do it in less time than it takes to have a coffee every day. She says her free training will tell you all you need to know. Then, right at the end comes the image to accompany her post. It’s stock. Beautiful woman sitting cross-legged on a comfy bed with a very snazzy little laptop.

Point 1: this is called envy marketing. Clearly, she didn’t reach 1-figure, let alone 6 by giving everything away for free. This type of post causes stress, pressure and, ultimately, mental health problems for normal people like you and me.

Point 2: I like to think of myself as a successful copywriter. I don’t make anywhere near 6 figures but I love what I do. I’d be happy, right here and now, to commit to coaching anyone who’d like to do the same. For free. I don’t have all the answers but I can be honest and tell you that if you have the skills, I can hone them.

By the way, here’s the real me – my teeth aren’t very straight and I get pins and needles if I work sitting on a bed but I can write.

Please don’t succumb to thinking the perfect life is out there. You are in control of your destiny so don’t let a social media post dictate what and how you should live.”

My own reaction to the advert I saw was stronger than before. Probably because it was using my passion of copywriting as the weapon to question others’ success. But also because I’ve been through my own mental health journey and, having started to share it more and more, am realising the fragile state that many of us exist in. 

What I didn’t expect, though, was the overwhelming response I received from members of the TLC Business Club where I shared my post. Here’s a small selection of comments: 

“I love this post. Well done for speaking up. Sometimes you don’t realise the constant bombardment of the ‘perfect’ 6 figure, 7 figure income blah, blah, blah starts to chip away at your confidence.”

“Love the honesty and integrity in this post.”

“This is a fab post! Thanks for your honesty. Even when you know it’s essentially ‘fake’ it still makes things a little difficult for you! Sometimes it feels like you’ll never get there.”

“I reported a similar ad last week for calling out those who thought just making $3k pm was successful. How dare anyone judge individual success? Or make people question their success? As Einstein said ‘Strive not to be a success but something of value’”

When doubt comes knocking

It’s clear that the resentment towards these fraudulent ideals is strong but, from these comments and more, it’s also clear that it doesn’t take much for the doubt to kick in when someone is hiding behind pictures of people laughing as they ‘work’ or sitting on a beach or bed in designer pyjamas.

In my mind, being a business owner is a win from the outset. I set up my business, Melting Pot Creations, around five-and-a-half years ago and I’d say its only started to pay me back in the last eighteen months or so.

I mean, to really feel like I’ve got money in my pocket. But I love what I do and I love the people I meet. For me, I have the work-life balance I need to bring up my two young children. I have a lovely dog who can be walked each day. I no longer have the stress of the corporate world.

That’s my version of success and the more I believe in it, the better it gets.

Now I know that’s not necessarily enough to pay the bills with every month but, the point is, there’s no secret sauce. These people are relying on that FOMO to get you to doubt yourself and sign up for their fake programmes. They’ll tell you that if you have a phone and access to Facebook you can run a business. Here’s the truth. That isn’t running a business. It’s a lie. 

I’d put money on these webinars or videos or whatever it is that’s being sold, giving you a few facts that you either already know or could look up on the internet, and then asking you to sign up to a paid plan to discover more.

Running a business takes time and effort. But you get out what you put in, and more.

What is success?

Maya Angelou once said “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it.”

I can honestly say I’d rather make a living wage and be happy that I’m aligned with my personal values than make a ‘6-figure sum’ and know that others were being ripped off in the process.

So, I’d like to reiterate that I’m always keen to link up with others in my trade (or any businesswomen who love to network). Look me up on LinkedIn, follow me on Instagram or visit my website to read blogs with writing tips or to sign up to my (somewhat irregular) newsletter for more advice. 

And I promise I’m not selling. I love what I do and I love to share that passion with others who have similar interests.

It’s not just Emma who feels this way

At Talented Ladies Club we’ve long campaigned against this kind of deceptive marketing. We receive many emails and messages from women who have invested thousands in well-known gurus and business coaches – and feel duped by the painful disparity between the marketing and the reality.

And when they voice their feelings to the person living the high life on their money, they’re either told that the problem is with them – they didn’t want it enough or put in the work (very much like the gaslighting lies failed MLM reps are told) – or they’re threatened with legal action if they speak out.

One woman who claims she was conned out of over £10,000 by a well-known online personality for courses that didn’t deliver what she was promised, says that her formerly charming guru threatened to ‘destroy her’ if she ever told anyone.

In order to prevent these victims from speaking out, their credibility is sometimes destroyed by being named and shamed in the gurus’ Facebook groups and on social media.

This silencing, gaslighting and bullying often leaves these women feeling shamed and unworthy. Not only have they lost money, but their reputation and self-worth has been destroyed too.

And to compound matters, the very person who has bullied and conned them is still being feted on social media, where they’ll often talk about the importance of positivity, and take very public stances against bullying and poor business practices.

(To be clear, we are not talking about a single, specific person here. We’ve received messages about several people and organisations over the past few years.)

Why many six-figure coaches are narcissists

If you’d like to read more about this subject, we recommend this article on the six-figure con. We also recommend reading this article on narcissism, to help you understand how these people can seemingly act without empathy, and why they respond the way they do to any perceived attack.

We also stress the importance thinking carefully before you invest money in any programme, course or coaching that seems too good to be true. What grounded, practical business techniques are they going to teach you? And what is their real world experience?

How likely is it that what you will be selling will easily (and ethically) make you the money they claim? And is simply pursuing money at all costs really what working for yourself is all about – or even something you can do?

Increasingly the business coaching world is looking more and more like a pyramid scheme, whereby each level merely sells the sales knowledge they themselves invested in to the next level down. Everyone is just learning how to sell to other coaches – and few people are out there actually plying their trade in the real world.

And as with all pyramid schemes, once it reaches saturation point those who got in early will make money, and the poor people at the bottom will lose out.

So we’d like to say thank you to Emma Rundle for posting on Facebook, and for sharing her thoughts with us here. If you’d like to know more about Emma you can read her interview here. And read her brilliant article on how to use testimonials to promote your business here.

And finally, here’s another link to her website if you want to check her out.