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How to alienate people: pretend to be their mate

March 9th, 2012 by piers | No Comments

When brands have to fight to get our attention, there’s an increasing danger that they use the wrong tone and overstep the line, achieving precisely the opposite effect to the one they were aiming for.

Most big brands aren’t their customers’ friends. We might have an affection for them if they’re very lucky indeed. But even so we like to treated with some respect. Most of all we don’t like them acting as if they really are our friends.

I recently received an email from PayPal with a subject line that read:

‘Piers Alder, what’s new for you?’

My first reaction was: why are you asking ME what’s new? If you’re emailing me then you’ve got a reason, haven’t you? Well tell me what it is then.

My second reaction was: And why are you talking to me like that, anyway? That’s how friends talk, and you’re not a friend. You’re a convenient service I use. Remember that and we’ll get along fine.

My third reaction was to muse on how much I dislike having my name in a subject line. It’s meant to show it’s a personal email to me, is that correct? Well I don’t believe it. I know how easy it is to ‘personalise’ an email, just like a letter, by shoving my name on it, even when it’s going out to millions of people. I don’t mind that generally, but putting it in the subject line just highlights its falseness. (When did a friend last put your name in the subject line of an email to you?)

I call that fake personalisation.

So, combining an inane fake question with a fake tone of voice with fake personalisation… and you’ve got an email I was not in the least inclined to open. When I eventually did (because I was writing this post) I discovered I’d missed the chance to win £100 worth of clothes. Not that I cared, but if I’d known what was in the email I might have opened it.

If my reaction were repeated across millions of people then it would have a serious impact. All because of a failure of tone, derived from a failure of attitude towards their customers. Something worth thinking about for any business.


Posted in Copywriting, Email marketing