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Dysfunctional Marketing Fails.

The most concise yet persuasive writing I see lately is on the Internet. It's not in the banner ads, the zippers, or the clever little titles ("Cut taxes now!") that pop up on home pages so often and link to commercial web sites. Compact as a haiku, compelling as the last minute of a horror movie, and inspiring enough curiosity to hook me the first few times I saw them, they look like this:

Why didn't you call me?

You were so right!

Great to hear from you!

Now, as soon as I see them, or anything like them, in the message line of my e-mail inbox, I delete them immediately. They're all come-ons to visit X-rated sites, and they are, as far as I'm concerned, marketing failures that only irritate me. It's a sad commentary on the state of promotional writing that some of the punchiest examples are by people you never want to hear from -- like Internet sleazoids. It's enough to give promotional writing a bad name -- and it's increasing.

It's not restricted to the Internet, either. Two years ago I got in the mail a one-page ad about a presentation, public speaking book and tape series. Attached to the sheet was a yellow "sticky" with the scribbled message, "You might want to try this!" signed only with the initial "J." There was no return address on the envelope.

After checking with my friend Joyce (a professional media trainer), with Joan, Jane and Jen at my office, Joel from my last job, and John and Jack from two jobs ago, I concluded that no one who knew me well enough to evaluate my presentation skills sent me this "hint." This was an ad masquerading as a note from a friend.

This note was a diabolical combination of almost everything that makes communication effective: 1) It's one on one, 2) it raises awareness of a specific, important need, 3) it offers a solution to that need, 4) it does so concisely, 5) and it evokes a response. This campaign wasn't as obnoxious as it could have been. (Imagine an anonymous "I thought of you!" note on an ad for liposuction or plastic surgery.) Nevertheless, it was obnoxious enough. The critical element in relationship marketing -- trust -- was not just missing, it was betrayed.

But it evoked a response, all right. I called the company in the ad and assured them their sleazy direct-mail campaign guaranteed that I would never, ever use their services; that I would make sure my every friend, relative, client and vendor would not use their services, and I would not even do business in their state if I could possibly avoid it.

The idea is out there now, and the stakes -- and abuses -- are greater. A few months ago, during the same week as the Columbine school shooting tragedy, movie journalists received anonymous letters that appeared to be from love-smitten admirers. ("I think about you all the time....") A follow-up mailing revealed the letters to be a publicity stunt to promote the movie "Love Letters." Many journalists were outraged. Dreamworks marketers said, "Is it responsible marketing? It's not guns, it's not violence. It's a love letter, and people need to get a grip."

People need to get a grip, all right. We, as marketers and professional communicators, must become more aware that our messages, in whatever medium, ultimately go to individuals, not faceless masses or mere sale-producing or income-generating units. They have the right to expect integrity in what they read, hear and see from us. And when a communicator doesn't deliver integrity, the loss is not just his or hers for just that one time ("Love Letters" tanked). It makes all our jobs that much harder because it erodes everyone's credibility just a little more. I don't open any e-mail from anyone I don't know now.

Virginia Maida Randall is a freelance PR consultant and writer of newsletters, op-eds, speeches and marketing collateral, Tamarac, Fla.
COPYRIGHT 1999 International Association of Business Communicators
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Author:Randall, Virginia Maida
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 1999
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