• The language of lies

    In marketing by mail and email, there is an unfortunate tendency to use language to deceive, confusing manipulation with persuasion. Those who do so use weasel words (terms that imply or suggest more than the reality), and even lie outright. My email inbox regularly receives examples of verbal deceit.

    There is one chap who sends me emails with things like “Facebook message” in the subject line. The email itself has nothing to do with Facebook. It’s just a crude device to get me to open the email.

    To my mind it falls in the same ditch as the person who says, “Sex! Now that I have your attention …” Astonishingly, there are still some folks who use that cringingly awful “Hook”, either in writing or in speech.

    I promised myself that the next time I heard a speaker open with that I would rise and leave the room in a marked manner. And I shall.

    Another devious device is to offer something free, and then renege on it. Here’s one I received last week:

    Im (sic) giving this away Totally FREE!

    But when you click on the link, this is what you get:

    Regular Price $197
    Today only $37/mon

    TODAY’S PAYMENT: $44.40
    Includes the first month of service

    It goes from FREE to $37 PER MONTH! and on to $44.40 (per month) without missing a beat.

    Let me now turn to weasel words. They are terms we use to imply something more than the reality. The intention is to deceive.

    One of the most common examples these days is “You have been approved”. It implies a selection that never took place, other than inclusion from the database. It even suggests that you have applied in the first place.

    A close relation is the long-standing “Three Stage” copy approach favoured by Reader’s Digest, which states, “You have come through two stages of selection and are now in the final of the Prize Draw.”

    The first two stages actually consist of selecting names from the database (known to be interested in the product being offered) and the allocation (automatically by computer) of six numbers in the Draw. There’s nothing illegal or even immoral about this approach, but I think you can see how the wording implies more than what actually takes place.

    Another favourite involves a sealed envelope that you have to tear open to see if you are a lucky winner. The weasel words in this case will be, “Find a Lucky Six for a chance to Scoop the Jackpot”.

    Once again the implication is that there is an element of chance, whereas every sealed envelope contains a six. The key word is “Find”. For a genuine element of chance there would be the word “If”, as in “See if you have a lucky six.”

    A poor copywriter will either lie or come close to deceit. The skilled copywriter will raise hopes without being untruthful. Direct Marketing is salesmanship in print, so it must use the stratagems of a professional sales person, and (usually) follow the AIDA sequence (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) of persuasion.

    Deceit is not the best basis for starting a customer relationship, so my advice is this: Always tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating!


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  • How to influence response to your mailings

    The level of response to direct mail is one of the most shocking facts in advertising.  A few years ago, the Direct Marketing Association surveyed 1,122 industry-specific campaigns and came up with an average response rate of 2.61 per cent. That’s a failure rate of over 97 per cent!

    The figures for 2010 are not much better, on either side of the Atlantic. The DMA in the US reported 3.42 per cent response from a house list and 1.38 per cent from a prospect list. Email to a house list got a 19.47 per cent open rate, 6.64 click through rate, and a conversion of just 1.73 per cent.

    SME’s report a typical direct mail response rate of less than one per cent. Forgive me for throwing all these figures at you, but I think you’ll agree that such results amount to a waste of time and money.

    I once approached a blue chip company that was mailing its members to offer membership renewal by continuous credit card authority (direct debit by credit card). Their large ad agency had just achieved a 12% response, and everyone was celebrating.

    I offered an alternative approach, and got a 32% YES response.

    The point is that it is not written in the stars that you should have a single-digit response rate. There are things you can do to deliver a better return on the money you spend. Here are a few:

    1. Provide an incentive to reply, even if it’s to say No thanks. The more replies you get, in total, the higher will be the Yes response.
    2. Plan a series of mailings and other follow-ups, not just a single shot. Some people need seven contacts before they say Yes.
    3. Segment your list and make a specific offer/approach to each segment, rather than the same message to all.

    One more piece of advice.  Use a professional copywriter with experience of direct mail. Unless you are one yourself, do not write your own mailings. At the same time, do not expect a copywriter to wave a magic wand. Give him or her a chance to develop the right relationship with your prospects and customers.

    It will be money well spent.

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  • Self-serving advertising can cost you dearly


    The advertising industry’s magazine, Campaign, is running a series on the history of advertising in various objects.  No. 18 is Strand cigarettes. By a sheer coincidence I was talking about it (and the ad campaign) only yesterday.

    Written by a brilliant copywriter, John May of S H Benson, the commercial featured a Frank Sinatra lookalike, and rapidly became much talked about.

    Campaign reveals that Strand was bought by only 0.3% of male smokers and 0.7% of female smokers. A resounding flop!

    However, Campaign explains the failure like this: “… great advertising can’t sell a poor product. Strand was just a lousy smoke.”

    Spot the fallacy. If hardly anyone bought the product, how did anyone know it was a lousy smoke? Campaign’s explanation is clearly an attempt to exonerate advertising and shift the blame away from the ad’s creator.

    The real explanation may be more obvious: the commercial’s plain purpose was to flaunt its creativity, both in the Big Idea and in its clever execution. A common failing in advertising. It did not relate to the motivation of smokers, nor did it reflect their preferred lifestyle.

    Did the agency do any research or testing? Or was it just another example of self-serving advertising? The theme music was great and did well in the charts. The photography was moody and very well observed. And the actor accurately portrayed a singleton in need of care.

    Just because the individual elements were well done, it was (wrongly) assumed that the ad would sell the product. It’s well known in Selling that when people notice and applaud your performance, you have failed.

    Besides, would you have wanted to pull out a packet of fags that proclaimed you a lonely sad sack?  ‘Nuff said.


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  • In these troubled times

    When times are tough, as they clearly are at the moment, it is interesting to see how businesses behave.

    On my bookshelf I have a couple of books that were written some time ago, but whose titles would fit very well with the prevailing mood. One is called The Best Damn Sales Book Ever and the other is titled Buy This Book!

    I’ll return to them in a moment, but let me contrast them with a couple of printers I’ve recently dealt with. The simpler one first. I received a promotional email last week from a printer I had never used before. I immediately replied with a request for a couple of printing quotes. It was ignored.

    Meanwhile I received three promotional emails from someone of the same name, inviting me to a seminar on property investment. While I applaud diversity, is this printer wise to take his eye off his core business?

    Now the reason I was asking for a quote from a new source of printing is that my previous printer mis-printed my business cards, and let me down when I pointed out the error. His integrity is worth less than the cost of re-printing my cards. (If you want to know who he is, contact me and I’ll tell you.)

    Back to the books. Their titles proclaim the authors to be bold, brash and bursting with self confidence. Warren Greshes’ Sales Book may not actually be the best of its kind, but it is certainly very good, and contains a lot of useful guidance for those who are struggling with slimmed-down sales pipelines.

    The other book is by Raj Marwah who was born and raised in India, but now lives in Australia. His book on advertising owes much to David Ogilvy’s book, Ogilvy on Advertising, but he has chutzpah in spades. And that’s a quality that will separate the best from the rest.

    Wondering if you should have another go at a sales letter? Or perhaps a new business presentation? Let me make it easy for you. Write to me personally at phillip@pkpcommunicators.com.

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