Marketing Failures: Triple Shot Friday

Here are three failed marketing initiatives I experienced this week:

1. Be Careful How You Ask Me for Money

My college sent me a letter telling me to be on the lookout for a letter from two alums. I had a feeling the second letter would be asking me for moolah. I was correct. However, this second letter was printed on three pieces of paper–front side only. The letter could have EASILY been printed on one piece of paper, using both sides.

Failed Marketing Takeaway: Do not waste paper and then ask me to make a three-year monetary “gift” commitment.

2. Audience Rules

A marketer created a print ad for a local publication and wanted me to “spruce up” the copy. After asking him for the pub’s demographics, he sent me census data on the town in which the publication appears, as if that info would tell me who reads the publication (as Dave Barry would say, “I’m not making this up.” I went to the publication’s website and downloaded the info myself. Yes, this is the same marketer I wrote about here.) The ad included the company’s “credo” and a picture of the owner and staff. The credo was written in a “We/they” format:

We see our patients as individuals with specific needs and goals; we believe in providing our patients with the best possible care–always.

The tone was really distant, despite the inclusion of first person. I suggested turning it to “you,” as all good advertising copy should ultimately be about YOU, the prospective customer:

We see you as an individual with specific needs and goals; we believe in providing you with the best possible care–always.

This change alone makes the copy better (and not because it was my doing). However, the marketer said he wanted it to stay in third person because “that’s how credos are written.”

Failed Marketing Takeaway: Comes down to the same stuff I’ve told my writing students over the years: yes, you need to learn the “rules.” But once you do, you also have the authority to break them. When breaking the rules, understand your motivation. If it sounds better to start a sentence with “And” or “But” or (gasp) end a sentence with a preposition, then do it. I’d have been okay if the marketer had said, “Gee, I thought it sounded better in third person.” (I would have disagreed, but that’s more of a judgment call.) Saying we couldn’t do it because of a rule is just plain dumb. (And in advertising, the only rule you need to remember is that your audience rules.)

3. “Preview” Buttons Exist for a Reason

I just received an entirely image-based email that I was very interested in clicking on so that I could learn more about the offer. However, the only thing clickable in the entire email was the unsubscribe button.

Failed Marketing Takeaway: Test, test, test your stuff–be it web pages, contact forms, emails, etc.–before you send it to the masses.

Do You Want a Clever Ad or One That Works?

Q: Dear Copy Bitch–I want you to create a print ad with a really clever headline. I don’t want a sub-headline, just the headline. I want it to tease the mind a bit so that it leaves the person to fill in the blanks. I think that’s what makes it memorable–because it engages the reader. Can you do this?

Answer: First off, clever doesn’t always mean “memorable.” Have you ever found yourself telling someone about a clever ad, only to realize that while you clearly remember the clever concept, you don’t remember the advertiser? I know I have. Second, you might want to reassess your expectations of “engaging” the reader with a print ad, at least in today’s white-noise-rich environment. Yeah, yeah, I know. YOUR ad will engage the reader. She’ll be paging through her favorite magazine and will not only pause, but also stop and gasp at your amazing ad and clever headline that teases her mind so that she can “fill in the blanks.”

Could that happen? Sure, I suppose. But don’t count your advertising dollars on it. Instead, think about the audience: what’s the pain point and how does your product/service/company diminish that pain?

Want a perfect example of ads that do this? Pick up a magazine like Family Circle, which caters to women, including working moms and stay-at-home-moms with busy schedules (I’m guessing the sweet spot for age, but I’m sure I’m not far off: 35-50). I can almost guarantee you’ll find an ad from a print advertiser that’s touting a food product and then a recipe for said food product. The pain point: cooking easy, nutritious meals for the family. The solution: easy recipe.

The goal with your advertising–even those ads that are branding ads–should be effectiveness, not cleverness. If you can come up with a concept that’s clever and effective, great. But work on the effectiveness part first.

“Make Your Mole Famous” – A Word on Compelling Headlines

So I just saw an interesting banner hanging over a heavily-traversed street in town:


Certainly got my attention. The first thing that flashed through my mind was Cindy Crawford’s mole and then the actual animal, even though I soon realized I don’t really know what a mole looks like.

Anyhow, the headline was in bold, and, of course, I needed to know what the heck it was about. Apparently, it’s for a new research study (the sub-headline following the headline indicated as much, but I couldn’t get all the info without causing an accident).

It’s a great headline, much more exciting than: Be Part Of a Mole Study or Be Part of a Research Study. So kudos to the person who came up with the headline.

However, boo to the follow-up. I’m pretty sure the research study is being sponsored by an organization called “SMOC.” However, upon googling things like “mole research study” + “SMOC” + my town’s name, I got nothing. Same if I googled the headline alone. Same if I simply googled “mole research study Massachusetts.”

So, dear banner-sign-creator, what if someone sees the banner and wants to be part of this study but doesn’t have time to risk getting into an accident to see if said banner has contact info? Shouldn’t there be something online–something that people can easily get to via a search on the phrase that he or she will likely remember, like “Make Your Mole Famous”? Why, yes. Yes, indeed that’s the way it should be. Ideas:

  • Create a web page on your site dedicated solely to the mole research study. In the title tag, you should use the headline: Make Your Mole Famous – Mole Research Study – Massachusetts. That should cover a variety of searches.
  • See if is available (that would be a good URL to have on literature around town–fairly easy to remember).
  • Buy PPC ads on “Make your mole famous” and “mole research study” — I bet the cost won’t be prohibitive.

Lesson: think through every step your prospect/customer needs to take in order to complete the task at hand (be it a sale or sign-up for a research study). Do NOT make these steps hard. Make it as easy as possible.