Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Your @%!& Opinion

Recently I received some feedback on the subject line of one of the emails we send out. To give it some context, this email is midway through a series where each email deals with a different reason to switch from a traditional fax machine to online fax. The subject line is “Where the @%*!& is that Fax”.

The feedback I received referred to our use of the “cursing” symbols as “poor taste, unprofessional, and offensive”. It further stated that they disagreed with our message so much that they have decided to go with one of our competitors.

This is the only feedback one way or another we have received about this email in the three plus months we have been using it. It averages about the same open/click/conversion rate of the rest of the emails in this stream. However, we have decided to change the subject line of the email to “Where is that Fax” and run a 2-week test to see if our numbers change one way or the other.

But I want to know what other people think. Is this offensive? Would you not purchase a product or service from a company that sent you an email using these symbols? Do you think you would be more or less likely to open an email like this when it came into your inbox?

I also want to know your thoughts on a deeper issue: As marketers, how far should we go to make sure we are offending the least amount of people? (I put it this way because I don’t think there is anything you can write that’s not going to rub someone the wrong way.)

I would say that our marketing department is pretty diverse; the age range spans a couple of decades, different backgrounds, and lifestyle choices are represented and no one raised an eyebrow about this subject line. So how safe is safe? I’d be interested to hear where you draw your lines when it comes to marketing and how quick you are to back down if someone does cry foul.


Anonymous said...

Ironically, I was just surfing the web looking for the services you offer. If I had joined MyFax and received the email heading that you speak of I would be quite offended. To each his own but I find it very unprofessional and I would be begin to question the way you do business. I would certainly consider switching.
With genuine curiosty I ask, 'what were you thinking?"

Anonymous said...

This is the same kind of issue that is faced by comedy writers where different interpretations of words can amuse or offend an audience - the classic "double entendre". This device is the source of a lot of humour.

The British courts long ago ruled that obscene interpretations of words that are in themselves inoffensive are solely in the mind of the reader/listener, and cannot be attributed to the author.

In other words if a reader sees obscenity or bad taste in their interpretation of a word(s) then that's their problem to handle.

In your case "@%!&" can be open to a range of interpretations such as "heck", "hell", "frig", etc, etc. leading all the way to the notorious f-word

Putting all that aside, the real issue you face is the perception of your clients. You do not want to offend and yet you want to present a human face that likes a bit of fun and is willing to play with humour. This is a good thing for many reasons. If a few ( very few I would guess) can't avoid reaching for that f-word in their minds I say too bad and let's move on.

Ty Cobb said...

There are people out there who get upset over the simplest things. You can't please everybody, nor can you always not offend everybody. Symbols like that have been used for years in cartoons that appear in family newspapers that will change the "H-E-double hockeysticks" word to heck.

I wish my life was so laid back that I had time to complain about such trivial things. People should worry about issues such as hunger, child/spousal abuse, the environment, the war in Iraq, or whether the members of professional sports teams are way overpaid relative to the value they bring society.

@%!& is only a dirty word if your mind makes it so. The symbols themselves mean nothing.

Anonymous said...

I feel that as ground up's we have an obligation to treat each other with respect no matter how pissed of we are with a service. The person getting the email with the intent that the symbols are offensive is not the one who started the problem...so why take it out on a customer service person.

The world is hostile enough without adding more to our work lives.

Be polite but strong when logging a complaint, just keep the offensive stuff out of our emails and our speach, there are more effective ways to deal with problems and this isn't one of them.

Tara Landry said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thanks so much for sending me your thoughts on this topic. As to what we were thinking: I guess like most people who use email as a marketing tool, our biggest hurdle is to get people to open the email we send. You can have the best offer and the best content but it means nothing if you can't get the person you sent it to, to open it once it hits their inbox. So we are constantly thinking about eye-catching (and mouse clicking) subject lines. Though we didn't think the use of these symbols would be off offensive, like with all of our subject lines, we don't really know the reaction until we try them out. Just so you know, we have removed these symbols.


Tara Landry said...

Hi Allan,
You hit the nail on the head with your description of our motives. We really do try to put a human face on all of our contact with people, whether they are customers or not. That is why my real name is used on our correspondence and on this blog. At MyFax it is important to us that we are seen as real people and not some nameless, faceless corporation. And while I personally agree with your closing, it is nice to get a variety of opinions for other "real people".