Coming as I do from a direct response and direct mail background, I'm familiar with the various copy lines used to encourage people to open envelopes.
A teaser line. An offer. A time limited deal. There are numerous ways to increase the open rate of an offline direct mail piece. Some are straightforward, some are compelling, others are plain feeble.
But I don't recall ever having received a piece of direct mail that had an outright lie printed on the envelope.
And I don't expect to. Why would a company do that? If the lie is revealed the moment I open the envelope, then the cat is out of the bag. The company can't be trusted. I would never buy from them.
In my experience, companies in the offline world are smart enough not to put their brand and reputation at risk by over-stepping the mark with their 'come hither' copy lines.
But this doesn't seem to be the case in the online world.
A colleague of mine recently received a B2B email with the subject line:
Fw: Please help - unable to reach your IT person
Of course, nobody had tried to reach any IT person. It was just a sneaky lie written to increase the open rate. And it succeeded. The email was opened. But after a few moments it became apparent that the company had lied. Hello delete button.
But what if my colleague had responded? What if he had been interested in the service being offered? What if he wanted to create a relationship with the vendor but, at some moment, while browsing his inbox, he came to realize that the opening line to the relationship, that first 'Hello', was just a lie?
The low cost of email has created two layers of marketers. The first layer comprises legitimate companies who would stay clear of lying in their subject lines.
The second layer is made up of the smash-and-grab marketers, who will do anything to take your money before you have had time to think through your decision.
This may all seem obvious. After all, you and I would never lie just to get an email opened, would we?
I mention it for two reasons. First, because I have received emails from legitimate companies that come horribly close to lying in their subject lines.
Second, when companies enter into partnerships or affiliate relationships, they often lose control of how those partners promote their products or services. Which is why sometimes you see a legitimate company being pitched in a very crude and misleading way.
The bottom line is to remain aware of the damage that dishonesty does to your brand and reputation.
Nick Usborne is a copywriter, author, speaker and advocat of good writing. You can access all his archived newsletter articles on copywriting and writing for the web at his Excess Voice site. You'll find more articles and resources on how to make money as a freelance writer at his Freelance Writing Success site.