Direct Mail Can Be Hazardous to Your Health – Your Marriage’s Health, That Is
It was an enticing offer. It seemed so innocent, yet perfectly-timed. Coming from a reputable company, it offered exactly what I thought my wife was looking for.
It was, in fact, the last thing she’d ever want.
The letter that started it all…
One beautiful, sunny afternoon, I walked to the end of the driveway to check the mail and see what goodies the Postal Service had left for us that day. I opened the mailbox and pulled forthwith a bounty of bills, automobile sales flyers, and oversized, multi-colored envelopes from Publisher’s Clearing House emulating Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and exhorting me to cut, paste, sign, and stamp my way to financial bliss.
Tossing the electric and phone bills aside along with my opportunity to be one of the 10,000 guaranteed potential winners of a chance to qualify to win another opportunity to receive more envelopes, my eyes settled on a blue-and-white envelope from my eye doctor’s office. I opened it and read the letter inside.
Although the message was not utterly compelling…it was intriguing.
It was also, apparently, not completely read. That was my first mistake.
What could be wrong with an eye doctor?
First, a little history. My wife and I were married a few years ago and were still in the process of combining marital things like utility and bank accounts, bathroom supplies, and Christmas card lists. One of the things my wife wanted to do, now that she was living almost an hour from where she had been previously, was find some new doctors closer to our home: a general practitioner, a dentist, and an ophthalmologist.
That’s why this letter from my eye doctor’s practice caught my interest. They had just hired a new doctor! Now, I didn’t know if my own eye doctor, a wonderful fellow, was accepting new patients – but this new doctor was. Both my wife and I had been meaning to call my doctor’s office, yet for whatever reason we just hadn’t gotten around to it. This letter served as a perfect opportunity to call and find out.
Plus – and here’s the kicker – every new patient of this new doctor would receive as a gift a free bottle of high-end, scientifically-formulated, super-duper skin cream…and what woman doesn’t like expensive skin cream?? My lovely wife certainly does; she’s the first to admit she’s as as girl-girl as they come. If it’s pink, sparkly, soft, or cuddly, she’s all over it.
So here it was: an appointment with a new eye doctor at a well-respected practice, and a bottle of fancy lotion-y stuff I just knew she’d love. I set the envelope and letter, face up, on her desk, so she would see it as soon as she got home.
That was my second mistake.
Ohhh…that kind of eye doctor
My beautiful bride hadn’t been home for more than 10 minutes when I heard her shout out, “What is THIS?!?” The fact that she was in the living room and I was outside in back of the house should give you an idea as to the sheer volume of that shout.
Unaware of my transgression and oblivious to the reason for her outcry, I came in and asked – in an admittedly muted tone – “errr…what’s the matter, Honey?”
My jaw dropped when the love of my life held up the papers and shook them in front of my face.
“You think I need a PLASTIC SURGEON???”
Reading = good. Skimming = very, very not good
I was dumbfounded. If she had no idea what I was thinking, I certainly had no idea, either. I asked, foolishly, “What do you mean?”
“I mean, you think I need a PLASTIC SURGEON???” My wonderful wife repeated her question word-for-word. I’m not sure if it was for emphasis or because she was so stunned she couldn’t think of anything else to say. It was probably for both.
Still not knowing what to say, I took the papers she had been holding – well, actually, she kind of threw them at me – and read more closely. The new doctor was, indeed, a plastic surgeon. He had been hired to do facial treatments, eye lifts, Botox, and that sort of thing. I had mistakenly figured eye doctor + new patients = good idea.
This was so not a good idea.
“You think I need BOTOX?!?” my gorgeous life partner asked me - rhetorically, I assumed. Now, she had mentioned once or twice in passing that she might be willing to try it in the future if she ever got old and wrinkly enough, but I wasn’t about to open up that can of worms. I just immediately said no, of course not, and tried to explain my confusion.
After a few minutes, she understood that I was not a shallow, demeaning, chauvinist trying to encourage her to change her body or looks to suit my preference. I was simply an idiot.
We both accepted that fact, and have, I’m happy to say, moved on.
The takeaway from this little episode, of course, is that one needs to pay attention to the messages that bombard us every day. Conversely, those of us in the advertising industry should take notice and make sure our messages are clear, as well. I’ve written previous posts about things like the importance of knowing your audience and having clear, specific messages.
This is why.
If you’re an advertiser, you have to assume some of your potential customers will be idiots like me and completely miss your message. Can you make your message 100% idiot-proof? Not always. But you can certainly increase its effectiveness by editing, reviewing, and testing.
If you’re a writer, ask others to read your work and see if they get your message.
And if you’re a consumer….read the fine print.
No bottle of free body cream is worth the aggravation.
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