Friday, 19 June 2009

The Dickens of a time for marketing

Marketing isn’t as easy a job as some might think.

The big problem is how to grab someone’s attention quickly – you probably only have a few seconds – and then hold it long enough to communicate your message.

There are rules of thumb. For instance, using superlatives is good: if you’re not the best, try to be the biggest, or at any rate the first. Though I have no idea why any customer would actually like to be the first to try a new product. I always keep well away from the bleeding edge. Every now and then Microsoft releases some brilliant new product, and I can hardly wait for a year to go by, so that I can install it after someone else has had the pain of trying it first.

Still, it’s true that people do like the idea of something that is out of the ordinary, superlative in some way or another. I keep toying with the idea of a strapline saying ‘you thought you already had the worst possible product, but wait till you’ve tried ours’ but have never actually had the gall to use it. I suspect it would attract attention, though.

There are of course other techniques. A good picture often works, usually with little relevance to the product itself – it just needs to be striking. Less convincing is the use of some supposedly learned quotation from a classic, usually encased in quotation marks to make clear that the writer is being erudite. I’m never too sure about this approach. ‘To thine own self be true’, I always say.

So I was amused by a mailshot I picked up the other day. Times are tough, as we all know, and marketing companies are frantically promoting their own services right now, trying to get us to use them instead of doing our own work. So it’s interesting to see how they market themselves, as a measure of how well they might market us.

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ proclaimed the document. It’s a good quotation, if perhaps not the most original: it’s been used for a lot of book titles, particularly on tough times in history. Even so, it has a ring. It also acts as a good introduction to the theme that precisely because the times are difficult, it’s a good time to do some effective marketing.

The letter itself was written in a chatty informal way, using first names. ‘Dear David’, ‘David, you may be wondering’. Well put together, though they’re in for a disappointment if they think I'm going to be impressed by evidence that they know how to use the Mailmerge functions in Word.

In any case their very first sentence let them down completely: ‘What, you may ask, does this quote from Charles Dickens’s ‘Hard Times’ have to do with me?’

Now there are two unequal categories of people when it comes to Dickens. The vast majority got bored to death in school struggling through one, or part of one, of his books. A quotation from his work would probably inspire no enthusiasm in them and might even just awaken uncomfortable memories.

Then there is a small minority, to which I sadly belong, who have some affection for Dickens and have read at least a few of the novels. Most of us would recognise ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’ as the opening words of one of the more readable of them, A Tale of Two Cities. Nothing to do with Hard Times.

Call me a pedant – many people do – but I feel that if you’re going to be so intellectually pretentious as to quote Dickens at me, you could at least take the trouble to get the source right. Otherwise the quotation will have no more positive impact on me than on the Dickensophobe majority.

You can imagine just how keen I am to hand over responsibility for my communications marketing work to these guys.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My favourite ad is the one which says: BUY AT OUR SHOP, WE NEED YOUR CASH!