Inauthentic marketing: case study

An example of inauthentic direct mail, from Lincoln Financial Group. The elements that eat away at the credibility of the sender and the effect on this reader.
Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

I just managed to stop myself tossing a letter straight in the bin. It certainly deserves to go there.

But I just wanted to deconstruct it as an example of marketing that offends me.

I also think it’s the kind of marketing that’s going to work less and less effectively in future.

It opens with:

“We at Lincoln Financial Group are always looking for ways to help our customers ensure that their insurance protection is up-to-date with today’s needs.”

A bad way to start a letter. With a self-glorifying claim that immediately puts me on my guard. Are they always looking to help me? Or just looking for new things to sell me? Let’s see what the rest of the letter says to help us answer this question.

It continues:

“based on the number of accidents that sadly happen in our fast-paced world we are offering you the opportunity to increase your financial protection against accidental death.”

Hmmm suspicious. Are they claiming that there are more accidents these days? Not exactly, so what lies behind the ambiguity? It seems like another fear-based approach to selling.

Now, however, Lincoln Financial start to get into real sincerity overdrive:

“Because you are among a select group of valued Lincoln customers…”

Select is one of those favourite marketing adjectives that tries to flatter… but give me a break. Select probably means that Lincoln have done some data processing and identified a group of people they think they can sell to. There is no privilege here.

More importantly, are they saying “hey, actually, there are some customers who can die in an accident and we don’t care!“?

Let’s skip a couple of paras

“Of course, your existing cover… will provide a cash benefit whether death results from natural causes or from accidental means.”

Now that is the first really useful bit of information in the letter. I wonder if they included it under compulsion.

“However, many people in the UK are looking carefully at increasing their protection against accidents.”

Interesting assertion, not backed up by any evidence… I wonder if it’s true. Of course even if it is true it’s utterly irrelevant. More and more people in Britain are flying from Manchester Airport; but that’s no reason for me to do so! The effect on me is to raise my suspicions further.

And hang on, they are trying to say I might want my family to get more money if I die from an accident than if I succumb to a sudden heart attack. Why exactly? If I’m dead, I’m dead.

“… before the day is over, accidents will have claimed the lives of 42 people”

Ah so now we do get a statistic (and it’s sourced from the Office for National Statistics). Funny how they are happy to back up fear with numbers. Of course it also shows that when the day is over, around 55 million of my fellow countrymen will NOT have died in an accident… I wonder how many will have contributed money to an accidental death policy in vain?

“… in many cases creating severe financial hardship for loved ones left behind”

Yeah, but again why are they only offering cover against ACCIDENTAL death? I bet a lot of people will die today some other way! What happens to THEIR loved ones?

So the credibility and trustworthiness of the senders of this letter is now heading south at a rate of knots.

From this shaky platform they invite me to believe that:

“After a careful review of several independent companies we selected Avon Insurance plc – part of one of the UK’s leading insurance groups – to provide this important protection to you.”

Ahh… a careful review of what exactly? Of how much commission Lincoln will get ? And there is another of those copywriter’s standby phrases “one of the UK’s leading” which means nothing at all. “Leading” is a word often used to desribe a company that has no distinctive quality worth mentioning. Probably not the biggest (if that mattered), probably not the best… just one of the leading. And why don’t Lincoln just name them anyway? They’re very precise about the number of people dying in accidents, and very vague about who exactly they wish me to do business with.

But wait, the best is yet to come. The final sentence reads:

“But please note: if for some reason you decide not to activate the enclosed policy, please destroy it, as it is a valuable legal document and not transferable.”

Eh? This smacks of a line crafted by some peddler of hypnotic language. What exactly do Lincoln imagine would happen if this “valuable legal document” fell into the wrong hands? They’ve just admitted it’s not transferable so why the laughable cloak and dagger nonsense?

Of course from a moral point of view the entire communication is valueless. Or rather it is value-destroying. It is destructive of the trust and credibility of this company to me. And let’s face it, the trustworthiness of most financial services companies here in Britain is not exactly at an all time high to start with!

What sort of organisational culture exists in a company that does this to its customers? Would really bright, enthusiastic people want to work there? If they treat their customers this way, how do they treat each other? What reasons are they giving me to trust them?

Now I guess that the marketing department at Lincoln will produce, for internal consumption, some metrics to show how effective this letter is. But what it won’t measure is the subtle but long term damage it does to the credibility and repuation of the organisation.

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