When DIY Sales Letters Don’t Work

By Dan O'Sullivan
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Susan Johnston

Courtesy: Rachel Hadiashar.

With Anna out on maternity leave, guest writer Susan Johnston was kind enough to contribute this post. You can check her out at her website or her blog, The Urban Muse. Thanks, Susan!

I recently received a direct mail piece that opened with this cheerful gem (unnecessary capitalization copied from original): “Happy Holidays! Did you know that a Dirty House could be a Sign of Depression?”

It went on to caution me that although a dirty home may not directly cause depression, when paired with stressful situations, it could lead to depression. It offered a discount on housecleaning services, and at the bottom, helpfully provided a link to a blog post from several years ago pondering the relationship between depression and a messy home.

Granted, I’m no doctor. But I have a hard time believing that people should replace their anti-depressants with a maid service. Sure, having a clean house might brighten your mood, but if you’re clinically depressed, methinks it’s unlikely to magically cure what ails you.

What approach would have worked better?

Instead of sweeping generalizations about mental illness, a simple message like “We know the holidays are hectic, so why not treat yourself or your loved ones to a professional house cleaning?” would avoid offending customers or insulting their housekeeping habits. Or a mention of how valuable time is and how gift recipients might appreciate having more time to spend with friends and family rather than scrubbing floors.

But hey, not everyone can write effective marketing copy. I can’t make my countertops shine the way they can, so I gladly outsource that task. Maybe next time they’ll do the same.

Summer May Be the Best Time of Your Life, But Not the Best Name for Your Product

By Anna Goldsmith
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I am about to have a baby. In fact, by the time you read this, I will probably already have had the baby. So like all new moms, I have been spending a lot of time shopping, both online and in stores for all the things a baby needs. (They need a lot of things.)

One such thing is something called a swaddle sack. If you don’t have kids or it’s been a long time since you’ve had an infant, a swaddle sack is a cozy little blanket with Velcro closures to keep the baby swaddled as he sleeps.

Anyway, on a recent shopping trip I found a rack of them and was dismayed to see that the sign above them said SUMMER INFANT. My baby is due in the winter so without much thought I passed by this rack and just ordered one online that night.

A few days later I was flipping through a pregnancy magazine and saw this ad. “Summer” is actually the brand name, not, as I had assumed, a reference to the fabric weight/time of year baby should be wearing this product.

Yet another lesson in “Be careful what you name your product.” As the tagline declares, Summer is “the best time of your life.” Maybe. Maybe not. Personally, I am partial to fall. But Summer, as we have seen, is NOT the best name for your product, especially if you are dealing with a target audience who is not always thinking straight … like pregnant women and new mothers.

I’ll bet 20th Century Fox wishes they’d had a little more foresight too …