Disclosing Your Ads As 'Ads' May Prevent Prospects From Ignoring You

People often dislike marketers because some are deceptive.

Dave Morgan recently posted a rant about deceptive advertising practices. Specifically, he called out a "Continuation Notice" invoice from a media trade newsletter company. The bill for $1,195 to "continue" the newsletter service for the next year was cleverly designed to make you think it was a renewal invoice. But it wasn't. It was designed to prey upon unsuspecting recipients who might mistakenly pay it.

I can't stand companies that do this. It gives marketers a bad name. Even worse, it makes suckers out of the victims.

Direct mail has become so deceptive -- and increasingly ignored by prospects -- that some marketers are taking the opposite tack: blatantly labeling their mail as "Advertisement."

Empire BlueCross BlueShield took this tack with a recent solicitation sent to me. First, the front of the envelope said "THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT,"making completely clear the intention of the mailer. That made me put my guard down. Next, the envelope had a transparent window (ironic?) which prominently featured the brand, along with a specific address, and a preview of the offering and benefits. No surprises, no tricks. I like that.

This solicitation caught my attention and earned some trust, so I did something I rarely do: open an envelope I suspect or know is a direct mail solicitation. Inside, Empire BlueCross BlueShield included an informational offer letter and a signup card that gave clear options on how to qualify and learn more. What I really liked about the signup card is that it clearly indicated the purpose was to connect me with a sales agent for a private consultation. 

I was almost ready to call Empire BlueCross BlueShield because this solicitation did so much right: it was transparent, honest, to-the-point and potentially helpful. Empire BlueCross BlueShield didn't hide the fact that they wanted to nurture my interests for a conversation with a salesperson. That was OK, because the salespeople in this instance were positioned more as solutions providers.

In the end, I didn't respond to the solicitation because I'm not in the market for health insurance. However, I'm now more likely to remember Empire BlueCross BlueShield when I come back into the market. This example underscores that direct response is not just about direct response; it's as much about nurturing future prospects and shaping brand equity.

The only thing I would recommend in this case is to ensure you get the name and address correct. After reading the entire solicitation, I finally noticed that it was directed to my dad, albeit addressed to my home. Still, the effort had an impact on me.

Lesson? An abundance of marketing pitches has dulled the attention and receptivity of customer prospects. Still, if your only reason for being there is to sell, you're better off disclosing that upfront. The trick is to win trust and ensure the sales experience and offering is one of high value for the prospect.

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3 comments about "Disclosing Your Ads As 'Ads' May Prevent Prospects From Ignoring You".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , October 22, 2010 at 11:36 a.m.

    How many people would respond positively to an upfront direct mail piece via any media for a $1195 for some vague newsletter of all things? No matter what one's opinion is of Empire BlueCross BlueShield is or if one is in the insurance shopping market, the back up of other media has established that this company is a legitimate company. Their direct approach provides a trust level of a legitimate company which now will have an opportunity to earn your business.

  2. Myles Younger from Canned Banners , October 22, 2010 at 1:30 p.m.

    I think the key here is for marketing departments and product teams to collaborate to offer something with genuine value (which is quite difficult to do consistently and still keep your marketing messages fresh and exciting). If you pitch a valuable product or service in an open, transparent way, you might see some pretty positive results as opposed to cloaking your offer in marketing trickery. However, if the consumer doesn't immediately recognize that you're offering anything of value, they're not going to care much about transparency, in which case it might work better to be a little deceptive so that you can at least get your foot in the door. This might sound a little cynical, but the less valuable your message, the more tacky you have to be in order to get through to people (up to a point, of course). To believe that all marketing messages will perform better when delivered in an open, transparent fashion is pretty naive. If that were true, I think companies would have figured it out many, many decades ago. Advertising is, after all, not new.

    Myles Younger
    Co-founder, Canned Banners

  3. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia , October 23, 2010 at 6:56 a.m.

    Max, Great column. I think that you're on to something here.