I don’t allow spam filters to censor my e-mail. As a commentator on the business of marketing, I want to see everything—warts and all. What’s more, being a “see guy” rather than a “hear guy,” I can scan an inbox and delete 100 messages in about 30 seconds. One Monday in March, the following subject line turned up in my inbox: $168 Coffee Lover’s Promo From Gevalia.
I started to delete it when suddenly it dawned on me that Gevalia Kaffe was nuts to ask a stranger for $168 in the middle of a recession. I clicked through, and the landing page proclaimed that I could receive a coffee maker, carafe, travel mug and two boxes of coffee (worth $168 retail) for $22.95 (plus shipping and handling).
The writer stated the offer bass-ackward.
About the Subject Line
The e-mail subject line is the equivalent of the outer envelope teaser copy. Mel Martin, the world’s slowest copywriter, who built the Boardroom empire into a $125-million-a-year business, would sometimes spend a week on the envelope. How important is the teaser or subject line to a sales effort? It’s 100 percent important. After all, if the envelope is pitched out unopened or the e-mail is deleted sans clickthrough, the entire effort is wasted. Once it is opened, that bit of copy represents 0 percent importance.
“It’s the offer, stupid!” said Seattle agency head Bob Hacker. “If performance isn’t what it should be, check the offer first.”
Guru Axel Andersson said, “If you want to dramatically increase your response, then dramatically improve your offer.”
Andersson also said, “Spelling out the offer on the envelope is a dangerous ploy in mailings to cold lists.” This is echoed by legendary freelancer Herschell Gordon Lewis, who stated that you cannot make a sales case on the envelope (and by extension, the subject line of an e-mail). The only purpose of this message is to get the thing opened. For example, “Save 20 Percent on Your Automobile Insurance” is of interest only to people who have been bothered by the thought that they are paying too much for automobile insurance. A far stronger headline (and promise): “Put $200 cash in your pocket next week!”
“The right offer should be so attractive that only a lunatic would say no,” said the great marketing practitioner of the 1930s, Claude Hopkins.
So why would the folks at Gevalia Kaffe permit $168 to show up on a subject line to a stranger in the middle of the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, implying this is the amount I will have to pay to take advantage of this offer?
By my count, five people missed this gaffe: copywriter, copy chief, designer, agency account executive and Gevalia product manager.
And it is my bet that all are probably experienced with online technology but inexperienced with direct marketing—the result of management “saving money” by offering buyout packages to senior creatives and letting the little nestlings spread their wings.
My advice to agencies and marketers would be to offer a seasoned freelancer a small monthly retainer to eyeball copy and design, which would most certainly catch an error such as this.
P.S. I just received another e-mail with the following subject line: “$168 Coffee Lover’s Promo From Gevalia—Just $28.90! (Includes S&H).” The copy was too long, so $28.90 did not appear. Duh …
Denny Hatch is a freelance direct marketing consultant and copywriter, and author of the online newsletter, Denny Hatch’s Business Common Sense. Visit him at www.businesscommonsense.com or www.dennyhatch.com, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.