Bad Marketing? Or Just Poor Judgment?

By | September 3, 2013

The other day I received an email from my father who was at first baffled and then frustrated by a personalized and credible-looking “you’ve been served” letter from a local law firm. Upon closer inspection, it was actually a personalized marketing piece. But it took him until toward the end of the intimidating letter to find that out.

To the firm’s credit, my father did open it. In fact, I’m quite sure the firm got a very high open rate on this piece. But is the potential ill-will that could come from tricking recipients into thinking they’d been served by an attorney worth it? I suppose in that business, it only takes a few conversions for the piece to pay for itself. But wouldn’t positive word of mouth be better? I guess it depends on the type of client you’re looking for.

What would you have advised your client if you’d been the one to print this? Let it go? Or chime in and say something?

I received a rather unsettling envelop yesterday from a [local] law firm—personalized with my name on the “addressed to” portion of the letter inside, printed on their official stationary and letterhead.

It’s an elaborate four pages, folded into a business-sized envelope, complete with the firm’s name in bold on the return address on the front, and my address discreetly printed as would any official letter of contact would be.

It’s was a little unsettling. I didn’t know if I was being sued or what. Did I do something wrong? Am I going to need a lawyer. . . . to respond to these guys? Am I the target of someone? Do they know something I don’t? It looks disturbingly official.

The cover letter inside—on the firm’s official letterhead—however, is quick to say that they’re “introducing themselves” to “me” (my name), and eventually I’m told that they’re proffering a free legal service. But the format gives the appearance of an official contact. Even though I know what it is now, it’s still a little discomforting to look at it—a “fat” package from a legal firm—with my name on it!

It’s taken me a day, actually, to get comfortable enough with it to look at the full four pages. Now that I see what they do, it looks like a genuinely good firm, “serving the interests of [regional] residents, not corporate clients.”Also, beyond the stated purpose of “introducing themselves,” they’re offering a “free Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare” for an hour of my time. But that becomes apparent only two-thirds of the way down into the body of the letter near the end of page 1.

I guess I shouldn’t make too much of the imposing “package” now that I see what it is, except that they might have been more sensitive to how it might at first appear. Maybe a different format other than a multi-page presentation stuffed into an official business envelope, or at least a signal on the outside that it was a friendly “let us introduce ourselves” contact and “your free offer is inside” rather than an official, “you’re being served” notice. My blood pressure went up the instant I took it out of the mailbox! (It’s that feeling you get when a jury-summons appears.)

This is a case of what is probably a good business with good intentions, unintentionally upsetting its recipient. “Surprise! You may need a lawyer!” Repackaging the presentation would have gone a long way toward avoiding the opposite response of what they probably were expecting. I’m assuming they did a blanket mailing to everyone in the area There’s no reason why I should have been on their radar, other than that I have a [local] address.

Just thought of you of course . . . you couldn’t make this up: 🙂

Nope! Crazy marketing just happens all by itself. . . with a little help, of course. What would you have done if a client had handed this to you? Good idea or bad idea?

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7 thoughts on “Bad Marketing? Or Just Poor Judgment?

  1. Gerd Meissner

    Very bad idea – “gimmicky” is not the only word that comes to mind. Clear case, in my view, of a marketer getting carried away by his / her own “creativity.”

    Law suit fear-mongering, to a certain degree, is perhaps the most traditional staple of legal marketing. However, if a client handed me this, I’d ask them which image they’d like to be associated with: that of sleaze ball vultures who prey on fear and weakness (of the moment), or that of a strong, trustworthy partner fighting at your side when you need it most?

    The latter, by the way, seems to be working well for some of the cheesiest late-night law firm commercials on TV. I’d recommend to fine-tune the “trust” approach to the particular law firm’s / practice group’s client base 😉

  2. Stephen Eugene Adams

    I receive a piece each year that looks like a refund check from the IRS (Treasury Dept.). I definitely open it every time. It is a certificate for 10% off on my next car repair. I have spoken to the owner of the car repair business and he says that this certificate has the best results of anything he does. Apparently this stuff works.

  3. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    That makes sense to me — everyone wants a refund. But isn’t there a difference between an IRS refund and legal action? I guess both are trickery, and whether it’s feel good trickery or “scare me to death” trickery, it’s still trickery. Either way, both approaches are using deception. But then, so is a fake Priority Mail envelope, and I don’t seem to have a problem with that.

  4. Kostagh

    The idea’s definitely bad. I’d go as far as saying that it’s actually dangerous. What if some senior citizen with a weak heart received this? What if this person had a heart attack? On the other hand, it’s not much that a printer can do to prevent it. Rejecting the business might also mean loosing a customer and a job. In this days it’s not affordable for just everyone. I guess the approach may depend on how well you know the customer. As we’re a service provider, more often than not, it would have been printed “as is” with no questions asked. Maybe an “Are you sure you want to do this?” by the customer representative would have been the boldest thing we’d do… But if the customer insisted and said “Yes” we probably would have answered “Okay. We’ll do it then.”

  5. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    But what if the client does sit back and say, “Oops! You’re right. This is really a bad idea. I hadn’t thought about it that way”? You’ve done more than print a file. You’ve provided really valuable advice. So even if the customer ignores the advice, you’ve offered value by offering it, and if a senior citizen DOES have a heart attack, they will remember that you tried to steer them away.

  6. Johnnie Walker

    If I approach either one of these law firms and ask them to create and publish some advertisements for my company, they will most likely quickly and politely advise me that they are not an advertiing agency and they do not have expertise in that area. Perhaps, they will even cordially and dutifully recommend one of my fellow commenters’ companies. (And offer whatever legal representation they think will fit the circumstances.)
    Yet, ironically, they will probably not afford themselves of the same outside professional advertising services. Instead. they will contradict themselves by creating and publishing their own advertisements, as well as conducting the related advertising campaign, in-house.
    The result? Advertisements that garner responses and feedback such as: baffled, frustrated, you’ve been served, intimidating, ill-will, tricking, unsettling, being sued, something wrong, going to need a lawyer, target, disturbing, official, discomforting, imposing, sensitive, blood pressure went up, jury-summons, upsetting, poor judgment, very bad idea, fear-mongering, sleaze ball, vultures, prey on fear and weakness, legal action, trickery, scare me to death, deception, and dangerous.
    So many negatives. Very, very little in the way of positives. Not at all the way a company wants to be perceived by their client base.
    Should an advertising expert advise them of this? Only the best ones will…

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