TruGreen: Is the Past the Future?

I currently live in a townhome in a managed community, which would make this solicitation from TruGreen an easy Fail for List. But the creative has some interesting elements.

Front of letter
On the front of the letter, the Johnson Box appears to have a general introduction sales message. If you read only that, you know the offer and the call to action. However, that darn asterisk suggests that there may be more to the offer than advertised. Looking on the back of the letter, we find in the disclosure: “Special price of $29.95 is for the first application only, for new residential EasyPay or PrePay customers only,” and so on. OK, fair enough. But I would not necessarily be a “new” customer. I am a prior customer — albeit at a prior address where I owned a house with a Texas-sized lawn

In fact, the first subhead and footer both ask that I “Come back to TruGreen now …” Perhaps I was targeted for this solicitation because of my prior customer status, which would make this mailing a win-back effort. Setting aside the fact that this is still a Fail for List — because I cannot purchase TruGreen’s services for my townhome — the offer is confusing. If I am a prior customer (e.g., not really “new”), am I still eligible?

Back of letter
I get the sense that the win-back messages were wedged into a new customer solicitation mailing. While there are two headline-level messages suggesting I “Come Back,” the body copy and outer envelope teaser suggest that I have never been a customer and am unfamiliar with the product. Perhaps this was a multi-cell mailing and the variable copy is in the spaces with the green background.

Aside from that, there are some creatively strong elements to the mailing. TruGreen’s message of “153 of your neighbors have TruGreen lawns” lends legitimacy to the product proposition (but, again, seems irrelevant to a former customer). Core messages are conveyed multiple times in the Johnson Box, side bar, sub-heads and the back of the letter. The use of color with emphasis on green and complementary lifestyle photos results in a pleasant resonance.
Outer Envelope

  1. Target customers who can purchase your product or service.
  2. When messaging a customer based on knowledge you have, ensure your messaging is consistent.


Mytireshop.com: Online Company, Offline Fail

I originally flagged these two postcards I recently received on the same day from mytireshop.com because two of them arrived at the same address on the same day — one for someone who, to my knowledge, has never lived at the address. That would make it an easy Fail for List and an example of the importance of doing a list dedup; after all, if you are willing to address your mail to “Current Resident,” there is nothing to be gained from sending two pieces of mail to the same residence.
For me
Not for me 
Inspecting the postcards further, this appears to be example of how an online business fails in its use of offline media in other ways:
  • There is not a specific Call to Action. It appears the objective of the postcard is to motivate people to visit www.mytireshop.com. However, the message about the website is that it is “your Fast, Local Tire Source.” The call to action should be specific, i.e., “Shop Tires Online at mytireshop.com”, with supporting features and benefits messaging.
  • The URL is lost in the copy. It is the same weight as the rest of the copy, without a “www” preceding it, making it easy to get lost. It should have some distinction — at minimum an underline, different color, or italics. Having a “www” in front makes it clear that it is a website. Granted, the concept of having to explain that something is on the World Wide Web is a bit passé, but, perhaps, that is why there is a “www” in front of the same piece’s mention of www.generaltire.com. Which leads to …
  • There are multiple possible actions from the communication. If a customer visits the General Tire website, they receive general information about the brand, but not about mytireshop.com. So why have multiple URLs on the same communication? Here’s my speculation: General Tire was willing to co-fund the postcard to promote their brand. That’s fine, but the postcard suggests that mytireshop.com sells only General Tires. It would have been better for mytireshop.com — and the potential customer — for the postcard to explain that “mytireshop.com sells General Tires and other fine brands” or have a similar headline-level message. 
  • Benefitmessages are missing. The features messaged here are specific to the tire, the ability to install the same or next day, and that it is a “Faster, Local Tire Source.” (How is a company with a foreign-seeming toll-free phone number local?) The benefits that could be messaged but are not are Peace of Mind, Ease of Use, Joy, and so on. For example, “Install the same or next day” could be “Relax. Visit www.mytireshop.com today and enjoy your new tires tomorrow.”
  • There is no method of tracking success. Customers go through a sales funnel: Awareness, Interest, Consideration, Desire, Action. The business behind mytireshop.com could easily learn how many customers move from Awareness (receiving the postcard) to Interest (visiting their website) by using a personalized URL that tracks who visited the website — or, at the very least, a vanity landing page specific to the mailing to count site visits. Once online, both methods can be used, along with Google Analytics, to see how many people complete the sale process — and how. 
  • Mytireshop.com
    Postcard front - heavy on GT
  • The phone number is not mentioned as toll-free. While most people know that “800”, “888”, and “877” are toll-free phone numbers, many consumers do not yet recognize that “866”, “855” and “844” are also toll-free. Some people might counter this by explaining that most people use mobile phones with unlimited voice usage or pay regardless of the phone number; however, there are still people that call from landline phones. For those who prefer to call from home rather than visit the website, this piece should help get them from Awareness to Interest by reminding them that the call is free.

These are Fails for Creative and reminders to spend your marketing dollars wisely.

  1. When mailing to homes by address, dedup your list by address.
  2. Have a clear call to action that stands out.
  3. Include only one call to action and one URL on a communication.
  4. Communicate benefits.
  5. Establish and utilize a results tracking method.
  6. If your phone number is toll-free, message it as such.


Viridian Energy: Unreal Savings

"SAVE MORE THAN $1,200" but not for sure
This article from retailenergyx.com discusses a direct mail offer from Viridian Energy. It is the type of marketing solicitation that I consider a Fail for Creative for being misleading.  

A bit of context: National Grid is a utility in parts of New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. As the utility, they maintain the power lines and are the basic supplier provider for electricity. As described on their site, National Grid adjusts their prices every six months in Massachusetts using a regulated formula. As this chart shows, in the coming six months, their supply price will increase by 97% to reflect current and anticipated supply costs, and that price will last for six months. After that, it could decrease back to the historical averages, or not. The price for the next six months will be over 16¢/kWh, while the last time the price was above 12¢/kWh was in 2009.

Are these the questions you would ask?

The direct mail offer from Viridian Energy touts the National Grid rate increase to 16.18¢/kWh as a reason to switch to their rate of 11.99¢/kWh guaranteed for 36 months. This is where the misrepresentation starts. Headline-level copy in the sidebar touts “SAVE MORE THAN $1,200 OVER 3 YEARS!”* That type of claim assumes that the National Grid Basic Service Charge will not change during the 3-year comparison period – but it will change. The Basic Service Charge changes every six months. So the touted $1,200 savings may be nearly zero.

Yes, Viridian explains this a bit in their disclaimer*, and they even throw in the mutual fund prospectus favorite line “Past performance does not necessarily predict future results.” But they hide this in the disclaimer, suggesting it was a misleading claim. Most consumers will scan the claims in the Johnson Box, headlines, and sidebars to determine if they are interested. They will read the $1,200 savings message, not the disclaimer that notes lack of validity.

There are other relevant facts to this offer missing from the headline and body of the letter:
  • The so-called “clean electricity” is not completely clean. Their disclosure explains that it has 50% renewable energy in addition to state requirements. Nice, but that could still mean a sizable percentage of fossil fuel generation.
  • If a customer signs up for this 36-month offer and later decides to cancel – perhaps because the National Grid Basic Service Charge returns to normal rates in six months – there is a $50 early termination fee. That is not disclosed anywhere in the letter. Perhaps this might be excusable if the call to action were to get more information, but the call to action is to “make the smart choice,” i.e., sign up for the offer. At the very least, it could have been included in a disclosure.
Direct mail solicitations like these give the industry a bad name.

Lesson: Disclose the specifics of your offer and relevant comparisons in a clear, concise, communicative manner. If you have to use a disclaimer to explain why your claim is not fully valid, consider your moral values.

* Many people mistakenly refer to the small print associated with marketing communications as a disclaimer, when, in fact, much of it is a disclosure. According to dictionary.com, a ‘disclaimer’ is “the act of disclaiming; the renouncing, repudiating, or denying of a claim; disavowal,” while a ‘disclosure’ is “the act or an instance of disclosing; exposure; revelation.” ‘Disclose’ is defined as “to make known; reveal or uncover.” From a marketing standpoint, a disclaimer is an admission that the headline is false – otherwise, why renounce it? However, a disclosure provides secondary but relevant facts of an offer. So the only reason an offer or marketing communication would require a disclaimer is if it was misleading from the onset.


Direct Energy: Phone Sex, It's a Gas!

This is a classic Fail for Creative … 

Direct Energy, when offering a renewal price to natural gas customers, mistakenly gave out the phone number of a phone sex line rather than its own customer service number.   

No doubt a term-contract renewal mailing like this was sent dozens or hundreds of times by a large company such as Direct Energy, which makes the mistake all the more notable.  It is easy when reusing a standard mailing to overlook the obvious – proof everything every time.

Lesson: Call every phone number in your communication to verify correctness.