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The Story Of The Drunk Marketing Letter6 Min Read

The Story of The Drunk Marketing Letter6 min read


Ever since I can remember, I’ve enjoyed reading funny stuff.

As a kid, we subscribed to the Reader’s Digest. And I would always go through and read the jokes in the funny sections: Laugher is the Best Medicine, Humor in Uniform, and Criminals are Hilarious.

And a million years later we still get Reader’s Digest and I continue to read those sections. It’s a sickness.

OK, I admit it, my name is Robert and I’m a laughaholic.

I love to laugh. I can spend hours watching stand up comedy routines on YouTube.

To me, George Carlin, Johnny Carson, and John Oliver are comedy gods.

Well, I just discovered something that has turned my whole marketing world upside down.

And it’s great news!

Someone has recently absolutely proven to me that Marketing works better if it’s infused with humor.

And as much as I love laughter and comedy, I once read that you shouldn’t try to use humor in your marketing writing because… “different people have different senses of humor and some just won’t get it and it will be a turnoff.”

Well, that may be true sometimes. But the person who wrote that obviously missed something or didn’t know how to be funny. The evidence is in. Humor works in marketing (if you do it right).

My favorite marketing saying is by David Ogilvy the legendary direct marketing agency head and copywriter. He humorously proclaimed:

“You can’t bore someone into doing business with you.”

But how do you avoid that?

Well, lots of ways, of course, including relevant information about how your product or service helps your buyers, information about your expertise, etc.

But not in the opening of an email or letter as almost everyone does. Boring.

What really works is starting your writing with something that gets your readers to smile, chuckle, or even guffaw. It keeps them reading.

Laughter releases endorphins. Endorphins give us a sense of wellbeing. And we like that and want more of it. So we keep reading if the copy is sprinkled with humor here and there.

The Infamous Drunk Letter – A True Story

Several years ago, the owner of an online advertising agency, in London, England, John Buchan, discovered the power of humor in marketing.

Business was a little slow and he needed some new clients – desperately – as his word-of-mouth had dried up.

So he got hellishly drunk one evening and sat down and wrote a completely absurd cold sales letter to the senior Marketing Directors of several big brands.

Let me give you some choice morsels from the letter:

“You’ve never heard of me. (Hi, I’m Jon.) I got your details from a list. *gasp!* But hey, at least you’re list-worthy, that’s gotta be worth something, right?”

When have you ever read a letter opening like that? And how can you not continue to read? You can’t. You’re smiling and wondering what will come next. And he doesn’t disappoint.

“We’re looking to win clients over from those evil (ok maybe not evil… but not as good) other agencies.”

Another little zinger that reflects the inner thoughts of many independent professionals, right? (Our sleazy competitors aren’t half as good as us, but they get all the plum contracts. Damn them!)

“If you let me have a chat with you about your digital marketing, advertising or bedroom tidying needs, I’ll take you for coffee, lunch, or tequila shots and promise to be somewhat entertaining.”

This little paragraph is a comedy triple whammy, designed to get the biggest laughs of the letter.

Bedroom tidying needs? Tequila shots? Somewhat entertaining? How could these not get wide smiles?

And the close is brilliant: “I await your profanity-filled response.” My favorite!

OK, but how did this letter work? Did it get results?

He got more response to this letter than any before. The marketing departments of major corporations responded with complimentary emails, letters, and calls wanting to meet.

His favorite one succinctly said, “My colleague forwarded me your spam email and we would like to meet you to discuss opportunities.”

And he got meetings with the likes of HP, Symantec, RedBull, Pepsi, and countless other international brands.

His serendipitous, humorous letter had hit pay dirt. 

You can read more about Jon’s letter and his ideas for writing attention-getting letters here.

Before he wrote that wacky letter, fortified with a little liquid courage, Jon probably didn’t think writing a humorous letter was a good idea. After all, he’d never tried anything remotely like this before.

Most of us write sensible emails, emails with glowing benefits touting our services, and boring emails triggering the instant delete button on the recipient’s keypad.

And that’s how most of us are writing. (Not me, of course!)

I get dozens of emails a day. Most are full of hype and over-the-top claims. Or they’re deadly serious and boring. But none of them are courageous enough to include a dash of humor and levity.

Virtually nobody does this. It’s as rare as Roger Stone keeping his mouth shut.

Why is this kind of marketing writing so rare? Why don’t we try it?

Well, we’re scared to death that we’ll be ridiculed.

And that is the number one fear of us all. Worse than death, dismemberment, or being forced to watch reruns of Barney and Friends.

No, we want to look good, be cool, and pray that people will love us unconditionally.

This is delusional. But it’s so commonplace that we think it’s normal. It isn’t.

Normal is wild and irrepressible curiosity, self-expression, and laughter.

Normal is having fun, being mischievous, and ribbing our closest friends.

Normal is writing like we speak, cracking jokes, and using funny sounding confabulations. (Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls)*

So I’m announcing “Robert Middleton’s Action Plan Marketing annual fearless humorous writing challenge.”

Write something about your business and add a bit of humor to it. Nobody will see you do this. Do it in the privacy of your home office.

And then send me the damn thing and I’ll publish it for the world to see in the next Fearless Marketer (yes, you can request anonymity). Winners will be praised. Losers will get tips.

It might be a sly double entendre:

“Our business is so admired in the industry that it would be deemed unfair if we received any awards of excellence.”

Or a comedy reverse:

“I know you’re eager to hear the latest dope from the IT industry. Well, here I am.”

Or the power of three:

In our webinar, you’ll get a ton of great ideas, inspiration to motivate, and tips on pirating our competitor’s software.

You can probably do better. Just don’t try too hard (as I obviously am).

And you can do what I’ve been doing: reading voraciously online about how to write humorously. I’m a rank beginner, but I’m having a lot of fun.

You can check out Jon’s website here: Charm Offensive

Be funny. Be fearless. Be writing.

More to come on this topic, plus the videoconference on Thursday (12 noon Pacific). Watch your email like a hawk on Thursday morning.

Cheers, Robert

*(Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls) If you know the source of this cultural reference, let me know and I’ll send you a free something or other.

This Post Has One Comment
  1. I look forward to getting your emails, and you have a gift for giving practical advice. Don’t stop! However…I have to tell you – no doubt there is a demographic reachable by the humour and self deprecation in the “drunken marketing letter” – but I doubt it would win any positive attention in Canada. It’s been clumsily overused by everyone and his dog, trying to be “real” and folksy – we call it “faux chummy” – and it tends to arouse suspicions that the writer is not sincere and not on the up and up. An independent choosing to go this route needs to really know their prospective audience.

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