Dear Customer: You're Fat and You Stink. Please Buy From Us.

Email marketing can be an effective tool — sometimes.

Anyone with an interest in email knows that a strong subject line is the key to getting your message opened. I’m not sure the subject line below is the best approach. Here’s how this recent email from AARP (Yeah, I know) looked in my inbox. I’ll say one thing: I noticed this one …

Nice, huh? Such an inviting, encouraging subject line makes me want to dive on in and read about … embarrassing health conditions.

Also, how do they know I’m fat? I could be a size two for all they know. Do they just assume I’m fat because I’m in my 50s? Does my name sound fat? Or is it because I live in the South, the fried food capital of the world? Would I look/smell better/be thinner with a sack over my head?

email marketing

So let’s talk about the content.

Apparently after you’ve called me fat, next on the agenda is to shame me about unpleasant smells. Just because I’m in my 50s does not mean I cannot control my, um, bathroom activities. And I shower regularly, so I doubt that I’ve offended anyone lately with my B.O.

I love that between “You’re fat!” and “You stink because you’ve peed yourself!” is “Join or Renew Your AARP Membership Today!” Yeah, how fast can I get that done?

Because if I’m fat and I smell like pee, I’ll need someone I’ve never met to tell me that via email.

I share this not to bash AARP, but to point out that, as professional communicators, we need to see the messages we send from the viewpoint of the recipient. I wish the folks at AARP had asked themselves a couple of questions.

  1. What might be the reader’s first impression when they read the subject line?
  2. Do the images we’ve used carry an unintended meaning? In this case, if you have these horrible problems, you need a bag over your head.

Next time you send a message, post a Facebook status or a tweet, stop and think through each element and ask yourself if the message is a) appropriate and b) likely to be received in the spirit in which it’s intended.

Disclaimer: I like AARP, they offer discounts and (generally) provide good content for senior citizens, including articles about saving money, exercise, nutrition, travel and the like. So there’s no need to write me and defend them. I consider myself a “young 54,” so perhaps I just don’t relate. YMMV and all that.

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  1. MamaBearJune

    That was hilarious! What focus group did they use that had a favorable reaction to that marketing ploy????? When I started getting AARP invites in the mail, I would pop the card in their prepaid envelope and write “Not in a million years! You don’t have any values in common with me and support many causes I oppose.” They are finally on to me. The last card came with an addressed return envelope that required a stamp. Not even spending that much to reject them. :-D

    • beth g sanders

      Thanks, MamaBearJune. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse “subject line fail” than this one.
      P.S. I used to use your return envelope tactic for political mail. Great minds … :-D

  2. sara



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