I used to work at Freemans home shopping. I started as a catalogue copywriter writing product descriptions, and ended up as a senior manager with a team of copywriters and graphic designers reporting to me. I also worked in the marketing department to help lead a rebrand, and ran projects in the creative department – a team of 100.

We had a call centre in Sheffield where there were 200 operatives to answer questions from our agents and customers.

It was a half-billion pound company. As such, we measured everything.

We knew that customer satisfaction rose when a complaint was resolved to a *higher* level than if there had never been a problem in the first place. We used to joke that we should create problems and then solve them rather than let everything run smoothly in the first place.

You might be wondering what this has to do with copywriting.

Last week, I sent an email campaign for an online training course, and there was a errant space in the URL code for the ‘register now’ button. On testing the preview, it worked fine on Mac. But when the email was sent, people on PCs got ‘404 not found’ when they clicked the CTA button.

We got a flurry of messages to tell us the link was broken.

I quickly had to issue an ‘Oops’ email… which got even more opens and clicks than the first one.

This is an example of when the usual copywriting rules can be broken.

Normally, you’d have a subject line that answers WIIFM from the reader’s POV. It usually means using the words You and Your. I call this bottom-up language.

When you already have a relationship with your readers, you can assume they care about you – even a little bit – so you can use more of what I call top-down language. That is, your company name, and the words I, Us, We and Our.

A subject line I sent saying “Oops, I made a mistake” got one of the best open rates ever.

Have you noticed the same?

Interpreting the acronyms:

  • CTA = Call to Action
  • WIIFM = What’s In It For Me
  • POV = Point of View


Susan · May 29, 2020 at 1:45 pm

As usual, you have combined your huge comms expertise and marketing experience with a deep understanding of psychology to produce an insightful article. From my POV, the smartest businesses are looking out for their customers now, even though it may hurt their bottom line, because they know they will be repaid in spades if they make it out the other side.
If any people can prevail through times like this, it will be the British! Good luck from down under:)

    Jackie Barrie · May 29, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    Thanks, we’ll roll up our brollies, make another cup of tea, keep our upper lips stiff, and get through this!

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