Confirmshaming was never a good idea – and what to do instead

Last updated
Apr 9, 2024
You’ve seen it – the sneaky “No thanks, I hate savings” or “Nope, I don’t want free stuff” decline buttons on websites. This technique is meant to deter users from saying no. But it leaves a bad taste and breeds distrust.

Nah. I hate savings.

Said no one ever!

What is "confirmshaming" or "guilt shaming"?

Confirmshaming is the tendency to use language in UX design that guilts the reader in the option to decline, psychologically shaming them into opting in by making them uncomfortable. You’ve seen it – the sneaky “No thanks, I hate savings” or “Nope, I don’t want free stuff” decline buttons on websites. This technique is meant to deter users from saying no. But it leaves a bad taste and breeds distrust.

Harry Brignull, a UK-based user experience design expert, is the author at Deceptive Design and coined the term.

It's a dark pattern in UX

"Dark patterns" are the deceptive functionalities that designers intentionally use to leverage psychology and human behavior to get users to take action even if it's not in their best interest. It's become so obnoxious in the design community there's even a tip line to report dark patterns.

So why is guilting users into choices so popular in design lately?

It's not quite new – it's been a design pattern since at least 2016. It's just gotten to new levels of ridiculousness as you'll see in the examples. It preys on psychology – people want to avoid feeling judged, even by a computer. And it boosts conversion rates, at least temporarily. So after marketers and designers saw upticks in email subscribers, they began rolling it out to more places besides email.

But over time, nagging and shaming erode the user experience. Especially when it's in multiple places on your site.

Examples: Which one's real and which one's fake?

source: confirmshaming.tumblr.com
Source: Jessica Jones

Believe it or not, the second one is fake and the bear is REAL. Jessica Jones, a brand designer, took the opportunity to write her own ridiculous versions of confirmshaming, and you honestly can't really tell the difference between her fake ones and the very real ones on the confirmshaming Tumblr like the bear.

Don't cry at me, owl

In this Think Design article by Stuti Mazumdar and Symran Bhue, the authors are clear when they state that it could be bullying: "Confirmshaming can also be seen as a form of emotional bullying – which skews towards an overall negative interpretation. Designers can, therefore, choose to design for more positive emotions."

Their example is Duo, the green owl from the language learning app Duolingo, who had a makeover between 2016 and 2018 that now includes active crying and trembling as it tells you it "hasn't seen you in a while. Do you still want to learn German?" Naturlich.

It IS possible, they state, to create "more user-centred design patterns that doesn’t involve users questioning their own goodwill."

Duolingo owl now cries when you dont do the lessons
Weine nicht, kleine Eule

What to do instead

Next time you feel tempted to design sneaky confirmations, pause. Put yourself in the user’s shoes. Maybe they have a valid reason for declining an offer that’s not apparent to you. Forcing choices through shame is neither empathetic nor ethical. And it damages your brand’s reputation.

Instead, try offering a perk for positive actions. If a user signs up for a free trial, thank them and let them know they’ll receive a discount code for completing their first purchase. Reinforce desired behaviors through positive feedback loops.

Rather than wielding shame, be generous with encouragement. Reward users for engaging. Foster an environment where they feel empowered to make choices that are right for them, not pressured into compliance. With a bit more compassion in UX, we can build experiences based on trust, not trickery. It can also help you get more authentic referrals.

First, make it worth subscribing

Before doing conversion-rate optimization, ask yourself, are your emails even good enough to opt in? Improve your content first and foremost and make it actually worth opening. Work on your subject lines, quality and substance of your content, and the offers inside. People love to open and read good emails. If you're constantly improving your program, you wont have to worry about tricking people into signing up.

Next, offer a perk to incentivize subscribing

Make it a positive experience. Through platforms like Paylode you can offer deals, discounts, or freebies to your users to take a specific action.

With a perk, the experience becomes positive and they remember your brand for this positive interaction and not for the guilt-shaming.

More ways to make sure your experiences and CTAs are positive magnets

  • Use neutral language for decline/cancel buttons. For example, "No thanks" or "Skip this offer". Avoid value judgements.
  • Allow users to opt out of certain features during onboarding flows, rather than forcing every choice. Provide perks to incentivize finishing onboarding.
  • Instead of popups that force a decision, have passive reminders about unused features/offers that users can easily dismiss.
  • Offer an onboarding modal with minimal options to avoid choice overload. Then allow users to opt into more features at their own pace.
  • Provide easy access to account settings so users can enable/disable different features and offers as desired, without pressure.
  • Rather than repeatedly badgering users about the same offer, accept the decline and move on respectfully.
  • Segment your users so that you can design offers that match their needs.
  • Allow users to provide feedback on why they declined an offer. Use this insight to improve the experience.
  • Offer incentives and perks for usage milestones reached organically, rather than through aggressive push notifications.
  • Test confirmation messaging thoroughly and measure results over time. Prioritize long-term trust over short-term conversions.

The key is designing flows that empower users, not shame them. Make declining frictionless, provide clarity around options, add positive perks, and reward engagement rather than push it.

Looking for rewards to boost email conversion by up to 10% or more? Let's talk.

About the author
Adrienne Kmetz
Adrienne is a marketing expert with a career history of working in startups of all sizes, from early stage to series A. She has 17+ years of experience writing about business, finance, and entrepreneurship. She went to Colorado College where she majored in skiing.
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