Imprisonment as Way to Catch Customer Attention?

Today I have received an envelope in the mail. It looked very official, and immediate got my attention. How? See below:

Imprisonment as a marketing tool

First of all, US Code: Title 18, section 1702 really does talk about a fine and up to 5 years of imprisonment, but it has nothing to do with this particular letter. The “obstruction of correspondence” clause applies to all correspondence mailed within the USA. Here’s the full wording of it:

Whoever takes any letter, postal card, or package out of any post office or any authorized depository for mail matter, or from any letter or mail carrier, or which has been in any post office or authorized depository, or in the custody of any letter or mail carrier, before it has been delivered to the person to whom it was directed, with design to obstruct the correspondence, or to pry into the business or secrets of another, or opens, secretes, embezzles, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. [source]

Secondly, let’s briefly look at why this piece of correspondence had the above-highlighted “call to action” (the “request for immediate action” and mention of time sensitiveness), and the reference to the United States Code. They wanted to get my full attention, and do so by creating a sense of urgency.

Since this is a piece of direct marketing mail, let’s look at what Edward Nash wrote about this particular technique (or the right way of employing it). Speaking of immediacy incentives to use in direct mail, he talked about the need “to convey a sense of urgency” — a concept most widely popularized by one of my favorite marketing and leadership experts, John Kotter. Nash (2000) wrote:

The need of prompt action can be related to the proposition, if justified with reminders about limited quantity or possible price increases… Try dramatizing the imminent savings, comfort, or other advantages of the product or service offered, as well as the costs, discomfort, and disadvantages of putting off a decision. (Direct marketing: strategy, planning, execution, p. 230)

If they wanted to get my full attention, they sure succeeded in it (how quickly I opened the letter is obvious by an uneven tear of the perforated line – see image above). But was this the ultimate goal? I doubt it. They also wanted me to take further action, and contact them about their offer. And they did, in fact, also dramatize “the imminent savings” and “other advantages” of using their service (just as Ed Nash teaches), but the discomfort brought into the customer’s life by the words they’ve put on the envelope overshadowed the actual content of the letter… I wonder how many other customers felt the same way, putting this direct mail piece right into the shredder.

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