Worst. Letter. Ever.

The other day, I ran into a friend who asked me how he and his wife could market their small business better in our shaky times. That’s a topic for many days, of course, but he wanted to know specifically about the value of a letter. I could have said that there are some big pluses and minuses for mailing a letter package, depending on the industry and target audience. Entire books, seminars, and much more are devoted to the art of writing a great sales letter. At the time, though, all I could think of was what not to do.

The other day, I ran into a friend who asked me how he and his wife could market their small business better in our shaky times. That’s a topic for many days, of course, but he wanted to know specifically about the value of a letter. I could have said that there are some big pluses and minuses for mailing a letter package, depending on the industry and target audience. Entire books, seminars, and much more are devoted to the art of writing a great sales letter. At the time, though, all I could think of was what not to do.

I flashed back to what I regarded as the worst letter I had ever read when it first landed on my desk in 1999. It’s from American Appliance, a chain of retail stores in the Mid-Atlantic states that, not surprisingly, went bankrupt in 2001. You can see it in the mediaplayer at the right. From the top, literally, something bothered me: There was no salutation. How can you have a letter without one? It just got worse from there:

  • misspellings (“Veterans Day” is the official holiday name),
  • bad grammar (e.g., “there” and “Audio products”), and
  • dicey usage of a trademarked name (American Airlines owns “AAdvantage”).

Looking at it today, it hasn’t gotten better with age.

I’ll admit it — I’m a stickler, but when I see mistakes like this in direct mail and email, I’m not overly worried about it being the result of bad education. At least that can be remedied a little bit by taking a one-day workshop, or at least, reading Lynne Truss’ “Eats, Shoots & Leaves.” What’s more bottom-line is that this letter should never have been dropped in the mail in the first place. Someone along the line — a marketing director or an administrative assistant — should have sent this clunker back to be fixed. But no one did. There is no excuse for not thoroughly reviewing all materials for basic rules of the English language before they are deployed in the mail, on the Internet, or wherever. Carelessness, and a less-than-professional look gets noticed, and loses business, deservedly so.

What’s the worst marketing letter you’ve ever read?

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