It's Time to Get Real - Real Honest! (917 words)
By Lois K. Geller
And for direct marketers that means Real Honest
A year ago, we all watched a ghastly tower of smoke and dust billow out of the site that was the World Trade Center.
Not long after that, a lunatic started poisoning our mail with anthrax. The news then turned to a host of institutions that lied, cheated and stole from us.
Last year, I wrote a column titled "Pinocchio Was Here" (Oct. 2001) about deception in direct mail. After the events of the last 12 months, and with the economy in the tank, I want to look at this topic through "new eyes."
Can You Imagine?
Perhaps we should start thinking about the disarming charm of genuine honesty. Here are two recent examples of copy developed by our staff:
Will our solutions work for you? Normally, yes. But maybe not. It will take you just a few minutes to find out. If you're interested (all you have to lose is a few minutes), just e-mail me, call me at 1-800-0HI-LOIS or send the reply form back to me.
With most copy screaming "This will definitely work for you," words like this can be disarming and help persuade the prospect to take the next step.
Dear Ms. Jones,
This is not the letter I thought I'd be sending you today.
I had intended a short note to announce the addition of two jets to our global fleet of more than 150 superb aircraft available for charter. But now there's another, more important topic on both our minds.
You and your people still have to fly. The issue now is how you fly. Flying via XYZ Company charter offers a number of advantages that can be summed up in one short sentence: You're in control.
Writing a letter that referred even obliquely to flying after Sept. 11 was a real challenge. This letter sounds as if a real person is sharing a dilemma.
Here are some other ideas that appeal to me:
• Don't embellish—inform. Years ago, in a movie called "Crazy People" (the tagline was, "Truth in Advertising"), Dudley Moore played an advertising executive who wound up in a mental hospital. He got the other patients to write copy. The results were hysterically honest: "It might not be the best car in the world, but it will help you meet girls." Or, "This car is ugly and boxy … but it's safe." Truthfulness is so rare that it's refreshing.
• If your product has a limitation, don't hide it—address it. I saw a DRTV ad for a sewing machine my mother might have liked. But it looked as if it might slide around on the table. If the commercial had said, "It's so lightweight it appears to be jumping on its own, but it's really easy to control," or better yet, if it had included some kind of clamp, it would've made a sale.
Volkswagen ads in the 1960s dealt with the drawbacks of the VW bug in a wonderful way that made the car even more desirable. The ads said, "Think small."
Buckley's cough syrup does it, too. Every fall, its ads appear in NYC subways telling us how truly awful it tastes (so it must work).
• Acknowledge concerns. Recently, I got yet another phone call from a broker with "great opportunities" in the market. The call reminded me of the new Schwab commercials in which it shows its competitors pushing stocks they know to be worthless: "Let's put some lipstick on this pig." Brutal, but a great line.
• Presenting a guarantee and honoring it is more important than ever. I want to see guarantees written in plain English, as if someone is sitting and talking to you. Lands' End has the right idea: "We'll knock ourselves out for you." That works.
• Do away with small print. Put your disclaimers up front. I'm especially resentful when I get a discount coupon from a store, only to discover after pulling out my magnifying glass to read the small print that it's only good for the soiled clearance items! Try a big-print, wide-open disclaimer, and have some fun with it.
• Don't always try to sell something. You can build a relationship based on trust and meeting customers' needs by delivering information without the expectation of an immediate reward. Ways to do this include newsletters, online forums, or a holiday card or gift to acknowledge the customer.
• Highlight third-person testimonials. The things people say about your product or service often are much better than the most brilliant copy. We developed a campaign for an auto insurance company that beat the control by having a current customer speak directly with prospects. For example:
Dear Mr. Smith,
You don't know me. I don't work for XYZ Company. But when they asked me if I would write about my experience with their auto insurance program I said "Definitely!"
Then the letter outlined the customer's unique, true and very positive experiences with the company.
Direct marketers can refocus on credibility and honesty. Most of us are honest, anyway. Now we should prove it. It's a creative challenge, and we love those.
LOIS K. GELLER is president of Mason & Geller Direct Marketing, a full-service direct response agency in NYC. She is the author of "RESPONSE! The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing" and "Customers for Keeps," published this year. Have direct marketing questions? Visit www.masongeller.com or