Got this in the mail today:
“REQUEST FOR ACTION – IMPORTANT VEHICLE INFORMATION ENCLOSED
“WARNING: $2000 FINE, 5 YEARS IMPRISONMENT, OR BOTH FOR ANY PERSON INTERFERING OR OBSTRUCTING WITH
DELIVERY OF THIS LETTER. U.S MAIL TTT.18 U.S. CODE”
My first thought was, “Did I get a red light ticket? It’s addressed to the vehicle.” I never run red lights, so that didn’t make sense. Then I thought it might be regarding a speeding ticket I got out of state last year.
It turns out my cars warranty expired and they were offering an extended warranty. (The name of the company was never explicitly mentioned, but “Vehicle Protection Center” appears a few times, so that’s probably it. The “Presorted Standard” postage should have been another tell.) By trying to disguise their marketing message as official correspondence and even threatening a penalty (which, by the way, is the penalty for tampering with ANY mail delivered by the USPS), the Vehicle Protection Center revealed what kind of company it really was.
There’s too much marketing like this. You shouldn’t have to trick your audience into opening your messaging. And you’re not going to attract the kind of loyal customer you want with cheap tricks like this.
I work as a marketer in some pretty crowded fields (including the health supplements niche), and I get it: it’s tempting to use shortcuts to stand out.
But that kind of garbage isn’t sustainable. It may work once, but it won’t work every time. You’ll have to keep jumping from one trick to the next as your customers get wise (or see your tactics on soft-news exposes).
It’s a smarter use of resources to be honest and straightforward from the start.
What would have worked better
Instead of some cheesy, spammy crap, what if this letter had read something like the following?
“NOTICE: Your vehicle’s warranty has expired. Please respond by 4/10/2014 to activate discounted coverage extensions.”
Right there, we’ve accomplished several things:
- We’ve pre-screened our audience. People who are interested in extending their warranties will open this. (It does have some nice urgency built into it, and the specific envelope style caught my attention.)
- We’ve built trust. We’ve said exactly what this is about and not tried to pull some bait-and-switch.
- We have a solid call-to-action.
While their copy got me to open the letter (as I thought it was from a government agency), I felt revulsion once I realized what this really was.
Web marketers do this all the time
The web marketing industry is filled with this kind of garbage. (In fact, I’d say most SEO firms participate in tricks on par with this one, which is why Google is constantly updating its rules and adding new penalties.) Web marketing is a little better at self-policing, in a way, since “spamming” marketing strategies exhausts audiences very quickly. (While I admire UpWorthy, the glut of “me-too” clickbait sites are going to crash by the end of the year.)
There’s a better way
And that way is to be honest in your marketing. Build something you can be proud of, and build it to last. Create content and copy that benefits the lives of those who consume it.
Taking shortcuts means you’re nothing but a trashy con artist.