Bad marketing example: doing the right things wrong.

If you’re like me, you treat your mailbox and email inbox as an opportunity to learn.  Sure, 90% of the stuff in either box is NOT worthy of your study, but I guarantee 10% or so of the mail and emails you’re getting offer ideas on what to do (good marketing) and what NOT to do (bad marketing).

This particular example I want to show you falls in the latter category in my opinion.  The reason I wanted to show it to you is because it does a number of right things in the wrong manner.

I should let you know after doing some quick research, I realized this letter is coming from a very experienced and rather well-known marketer, which just proves how easy it is even for seasoned and successful marketers to make fundamental mistakes.  Obviously, I have no idea how this letter is converting for him, but when you see it, I think you’ll agree it fumbles the ball. You can click on the images to enlarge.


Right thing #1: Highly-personal looking, hand-crafted envelope. This letter did almost everything right when it arrived in my mailbox.  It was sent in a personal-looking, plain-white #10 envelope with real handwriting and a first class stamp.  Nothing to criticize so far.

Right thing, wrong #1:  In my opinion, these days if you leave off a return address it’s a classic tell-tale sign that what I am about to open is “marketing and advertising.”

Why do I say this?

Simply because these days if you were to send a letter to a friend, there is a 99.9% probability you would include a return address.  Chances are you would even include your name, right?

Since I am a proponent of crafting marketing that feels highly personalized and as if you were writing to a friend, I believe a return address is important.  Even if you’re doing direct mail to a “cold list” and the recipient doesn’t know you, I think it’s still smart to include this form of personalization.  In today’s age of rampant skepticism and cynicism, I believe NOT having a return address on an envelope is a mistake.


Right thing #2: Personal-looking, personalized letter. The letter opens by continuing the personalization – just like a friend-to-friend letter.  This is a good thing.

Right thing, wrong #2:  So while it’s personalized to me, the second disconnect comes from the fact I have no idea who is writing to me in this personal nature.  There’s no introduction and even if I scan ahead – I see the letter only comes from a “Jack.”  For many people, like me, the sender just put a speed bump in front of me.

Right thing #3: A heck of an opening grabber. The personalized salutation goes right into a doozy of a grabber that got my attention.   It opens with a huge compliment that appeals to me, the reader.  Then it goes on to tell me because I “did something that really went way beyond the call of duty” he vowed to help me, which was the reason for the letter. This is classic and chances are would grab just about every reader, which is always the purpose of your opening lines.

Right thing, wrong #3:  I have to admit, I had to read this opening several times, before I realized it wasn’t grounded in truthfulness and this is where the sender makes a big mistake in my opinion.  As soon as my “b.s. meter” was flashing red, the sender lost me.  Now I realize like any other marketing campaign, it’s always a numbers game and the assumption here is quite a few readers will want to believe the compliment and simply overlook the lack of facts.  But again, in my opinion, it’s this type of “white lie” that gives a lot of marketing and advertising a bad rap.

On a side note – IF you can swipe this opening paragraph AND base it on facts, not fiction, then you will instantly grab your reader due to its ego-centric nature.

Right thing #4: “Me to you” writing style. The entire letter is written in an informal, friendly tone, which I believe is a good thing.  “Me to you” marketing is one of my High Impact Marketing building blocks (which you will soon be able to read about in my upcoming High Impact Marketing Manifesto) and a critical strategy to connecting with your prospects and customers.

Right thing, wrong #4:  Here’s where everything falls apart with this entire letter.  My grateful “friend Jack” is a lie.  He doesn’t exist and everything in the letter is b.s.   I hate this kind of marketing and while it has manifested itself many different ways over the years, it doesn’t make it any more palatable.  I know marketers use it because it works (or used to work), but in my opinion it doesn’t make it right.  If you’re going to attempt to start a relationship with me built on a lie, I don’t want to do business with you.

Fortunately “Jack” makes not responding pretty easy, because his call-to-action is one of the weakest I have ever seen.  Go ahead and read the letter and then tell me what the call-to-action is.   I guess it’s in the P.S.  where he lists the website “he thinks” is the right one.  Yeesh.


Bad marketing comes in many forms, but marketing that is built upon blatant lies is the worst of the worst.   It will be interesting to see the follow-up pieces to this letter. If I get any, I will post an update to this article. In the meantime, I want to know your thoughts and feedback.  Chime in here and let me know if you agree or disagree with me.  Am I over-reacting?  I want to hear your thoughts!



  1. Steve on February 6, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Totally agree with you. The letter is just like the bogus emails you receive about needing help in transferring a large sum of money from overseas to the U.S. except here the letter uses better grammar and spell checker. The sad part is as you pointed in your point#3 is that there will be some that are sucked into the compliment about going beyond the call of duty.

  2. Jimmy on February 6, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Wow…This is Brutal.

    Even being just wet behind the ears junior marketing student I would be ashamed if this was my Marketing campaign.

    It almost feels like a scam letter that is sent from a laywers office in another country looking for Relatives for some one that has passed away and left an inheratance.

  3. Stacey Riska on February 6, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    I agree, Mike. It makes you feel duped. Not having a return address on the outside would make me immediately feel its “junk mail.” I always put these in the circular file right away anyways. You should contact Jack and let him know he needs some “design” work (aka CopyDoodles) in that letter. The second page is a complete waste the way it’s laid out. And where’s the call to action???? Many things wrong with this letter.

  4. Richard Sherry on February 6, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    I agree with your essential point, Mike, that style is important but honestly trumps everything. I don’t have a problem being pitched anything—especially if the pitch is entertaining and gives value of some sort—but don’t mail me a lie in the form of a non-existent friendship. Blech!

  5. Mike Capuzzi on February 6, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Hey Steve – indeed. Appreciate your comments!

  6. Mike Capuzzi on February 6, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Stacey – I didn’t even go into the “cosmetics” rant, because on one-hand, this letter really does look like “a friend” sent it. It was printed on very cheap, copier paper and was very plain-Jane. And you are right, much more could have been done on page 2.

  7. Mike Capuzzi on February 6, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Rich – you bring up a very good point. People DO like to buy – they just don’t want to be sold – especially on a false premise.

  8. Marte Cliff on February 6, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    I agree with you 100% Mike. It always amazes me that some people must respond to this kind of sleazy marketing. If no one did, they’d quit sending it, right?

    You didn’t say who the well-known marketer is, but he or she has obviously lost a sense of decency.

  9. Jim on February 6, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    I have a slightly different take on this. First, keep in mind that stuff soliciting investments has to have all kinds of disclaimers which will immediately flag it as a sales letter. The guy cleverly avoids this by only “selling the ad.” So it’s like a preview ad to draw your attention to the upcoming ad. You are probably a Investors Daily subscriber, so he’s alerting you to the ad in an attempt it get you to read it.

    Where I think it goes wrong is exactly where you were offended – you don’t know him, never knew him, and won’t ever meet him. That will eventually occur to most readers and be a turnoff. But you’ll probably look at the ad which I’ve seen and which is damned good. So I don’t think it’s terrible, but I wonder how worthwhile it is – the ROI must be tough because he’s mailing first class to every ID subscriber out there. Maybe it’s a test. Kinda like the tear sheet mailing with the faux sticky on it – “This is the thing I told you about. J”

  10. Mark Bond on February 6, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Mike-with your current weather situation you are “telling this story around your fireplace”. I was confused until I reread the letter several times what “Jack” was trying to accomplish except suck up to you. I’m not impressed.

  11. Michael on February 6, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Very interesting. It really does “feel” like a scam to me. If it really was real, he would use the return address. As it is, at least to me, the writer is hiding behind the anonymity of not telling you who he really is. And if it has been “years” since you helped him, you may not remember who he is, and he does not provide his last name. In fact, I think Jack is paranoid to reveal himself! If they had not made it feel like a lie and a scam, it actually would be a pretty good marketing piece!

  12. Jeff Giagnocavo on February 6, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    I can’t believe that business owners even invest in something like this. It’s not even all that original. To me the opening paragraph seems like a swipe and deploy from the emails you get from princes/princesses/dignitaries in Nigeria. What a joke!

    And that call to action, that is like my sales man saying, “I suppose the credit card machine is here somewhere, you know pay me something for this mattress dollars, chickens, bitcoin, I’m sure we can figure it out, but hey we are super cool after all, and under ground, and kind of a big deal.”

  13. Steven Dickinson on February 6, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    Great write up. Your response not the actual letter. The only missing is the address to send money to some African country.

    And I would never go to that web site for fear of some virus or worm.

    Thanks for sharing, Mike!

  14. Eric Tye on February 6, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    I’d describe the style of writing as almost unreadable. It may be a “friendly” opening, but overly formal and overly “grammatical.” Ugh! Speak like a normal person speaks and you’d have cut the length of this letter by one-third. Coulda added a few more imprtant things…

  15. Kevin Carter on February 6, 2014 at 2:16 pm


    When I get a letter similar to this where the sender pretends to be my good buddy, it is more of an affront to me than if he plainly stated that, ‘We haven’t yet met but…’

    The moment someone tries to trick me (‘Thanks for that great thing you did for me a long time ago’) is the moment I go from mild curiosity to major defensive mode.

    Thanks for your great work in educating the masses about marketing… Or should I say educating the relatively few that actually are students of marketing, willing to work and apply what they learn. Either way, Thanks!

    Kevin Carter

  16. Mike Capuzzi on February 6, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Jim – Looks like you got out of the northeast just in time. You are right it’s exactly like the tear sheet mailings with phony sticky notes.

  17. Marty on February 6, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Agreed. Nicely worded.

  18. Jeff on February 6, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Fell apart right off the bat – if I’m writing someone and telling them they did me a favor, I’m going to describe it, e.g. Dear Mike: Sometime ago you gave me the privilege of being able to assist you in your (name your legal problem here). Because you had faith in me, I immediately thought of you when presented with this opportunity …blah blah blah. Problem was I had to keep reading. Even took a look at the website – just awful (daughter’s team recently qualified for tournament – with a 2012 banner being held by the team), Of course, I have no way of knowing how long you’ve had this example sitting around . . . ;O)

    Thanks for the reminder on how not to do things. Enjoy the day.

  19. Mike Capuzzi on February 6, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Jeff – exactly my point. That is how somebody would write it authentically. Big difference.

  20. Mike Capuzzi on February 6, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Thanks Kevin! We are on the same page. When somebody tries to sneak something in like this, it does the exact opposite of what they are trying to intend to do.

  21. Chris on February 6, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    I agree with you Mike. For me the believability started at the ‘beyond the call of duty’. I agree with Jeff. If I were to suggest to someone that they went beyond the call of duty for me many years ago I would certainly include that event as a reminder along with an additional Thank You.
    The unbelievability continued in a downward spiral ending with not being sure of the web address. He can conjure up much information about the guy but not be sure of the web address. Wow!!
    Thanks Mike

  22. Ian on February 6, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Thanks for sharing Mike,
    Very useful information.

  23. Matt on February 7, 2014 at 6:54 am

    Hi Mike. Just read that example and starting the letter with “You are a man of great character” is one of the most blatantly bs, blowing smoke up someone’s ass statements I have ever read! Seriously, I don’t know if it is because I am English, but how cheesy is that?! How many of your friends write crap like that in letters to you? I am a man of great character (!) but if a friend actually said that in a letter or otherwise, immediately I would be thinking ‘this is weird, what the hell is up/what do they want?’

    Cool ice photo btw. Hope that tree stays outside!

  24. Mike Capuzzi on February 7, 2014 at 7:17 am

    Matt – thanks for the note. BTW, it has nothing to do with you being “English” – just intelligent.

  25. Paul on February 7, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Just the formatting of the letter alone is killing it. Just a wall of text and most people are used to
    bite sized chunks. WAY too many mistakes in this piece to go over.

    Sadly it did have a couple areas not too bad. Likely breezed through some copywriting article, then blew
    through writing this..They will likely proclaim “direct mail is dead” after it fails…

  26. Lance Campbell on February 13, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    Sorry that this is coming in a week late. I agree with you that the ‘Stranger acting like a past acquaintance’ style leaves me cold as it seems like a con.
    I have even been getting a robocall on our house phone that starts off with “Hey it’s me, John.Well I hope I’ve got the right number eh, er. Anyway here’s that information you wanted…”

  27. Mike Capuzzi on February 13, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    Lance – I hear you – no pun intended. I’ve also have gotten a few robocalls and actually thought it was a real person for a second (they have some slick ways for doing that). Then I hung up the phone.

  28. Ron Jordan on February 25, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    The marketer forgot one of the fundamentals of the state of mind of the buyer when the potential buyer is reading an ad, sales letter, email, website, etc.

    If they are reading, you got their interest, or at least attention, now they are looking for reasons to not buy, throw it in the trash or click away or hit the delete button.

    A sign of BS is good enough reason for most people. This letter and envelope is loaded with it.

    Truth in advertising is so important yet dismissed as not always necessary, and that’s a shame.

  29. Mike Capuzzi on February 25, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    I agree Ron!