Famous Last Words: Cold E-mail to Strangers Can Work
I write this the day before Ronald Reagan’s funeral, 10 minutes after this alert popped up in my inbox:
3:46 AM email@example.com Remembering Ronald Reagan
The prior weekend, TV news had a nervous breakdown. In Normandy, France, the highly emotional commemoration of the 60th anniversary of D-Day was in progress. A large contingent of 80-year-old men who had saved the world were saying good-bye to each other and to France for the last time. When word came from California that Ronald Reagan was dead after his long, sad bout with Alzheimer’s, TV news went into Reagan frenzy, totally eclipsing the events in France. Only MSNBC carried the international D-day ceremonies. All the other stations scrounged up every possible person who had any connection with the Reagans and put them on the air and dove into the film archives for everything they could find on the 40th president. This would be okay, except that (1) a very important event was happening in France that had great meaning to millions of Americans and (2) TV news would be mopping the floor morning through night with Reagan’s life and death for the next five days.
I remember Churchill’s funeral in 1965 when the great BBC commentator Richard Dimbleby gave the world a magnificent history lesson as he described in fascinating and exhaustive detail the campaigns of every military unit that marched, as well as the origin and meaning of every stripe, medal, weapon, insignia, button and busby of the uniforms as they went by.
After hearing Wolf Blitzer say to every jerkwater guest for the umpteenth time, “Tell us your thoughts on Ronald Reagan,” I was ready to reach through the screen and strangle him. Quite simply, America’s dreary TV news anchors do not do their homework and are dull as dirt.
Unlike TV news people, direct marketers can be deliciously savvy. Take, for example, zephermedia.com, which slammed out an e-mail blast—probably to tens of millions—that cashed in on the incredible hype by offering a two-disc DVD set on Reagan. Ten years ago—sans Internet—this offer could only be made in print ads or mail long after the publicity had died down.
Look at the message above, specifically the subject line. Three words, right on the money. The reason cold e-mail does not work is because most of the people who create it do not understand that the subject line is the equivalent of the headline on the ad (“The ticket on the meat,” as David Ogilvy called it) or the teaser on the outer envelope. World-class copywriters spend hours on this single element. Boardroom’s legendary Mel Martin could spend weeks thinking though a teaser or a headline.
Yes, I found weaknesses in this effort. The copywriter used virtually no emotion. And the following two sentences were truly poor: (1) “He is also credited by many with the greatest peacetime expansion in U.S. history,” and (2) “From the attempted assassination on his life, to his … .” Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase was the greatest peacetime expansion in U.S. history, and if the “attempted assassination” was not on his life, what was it on? Further, if you clicked on a button that said “click here” you landed on a page with the same illustration and the same copy—an unnecessary redundancy. Everywhere were guarantees of financial safety and confidentiality. At the top of the page I was told that 1,201 others were shopping at that moment. At $40 a set, these guys were taking in $48,000 every few minutes. Not bad for a promotion that cost zilch.
It could have been done better. But the point is, the promotion was slammed out and working. In the words of Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
Denny Hatch, consultant and freelance copywriter, founder of Who’s Mailing What! (now Inside Direct Mail) and former editor of Target Marketing, is the author of “PRICELINE.COM: A Layman’s Guide to Manipulating the Media” and “Method Marketing.” Visit his Web site www.pricelineandthemedia.com, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.