You could be in big trouble if you don’t read this


AIDA is an advertising acronym that speaks to the elements of an effective ad or marketing message. The letters stand for “Attention, Interest, Desire, Action”. “Attention” is first because unless and until you have the reader’s or listener’s attention, there’s no point in presenting anything else.

One of the most effective ways to get the reader’s attention is to say something that speaks to their self-interest. Something they want or something they fear.

If you are a criminal defense attorney, for example, your ad’s headline might use words like, “handcuffs, jail, guilty, or sentencing”. Or about the charge itself, e.g., DUI.

It’s the same for email. You want to get the recipient’s attention and get them to open the email because if they don’t open it, you’re not going to get them interested in what you’re selling.

But email has some other considerations, as illustrated by an email I got this morning from The State Bar of California:

“Dear State Bar Member,

We have received numerous calls and emails alerting us to a fraudulent email being distributed with the following subject line: “The State Bar of California Complaint.”

Please be advised that this email is not from, or authorized by, the State Bar. If you receive one of these fraudulent emails, please do not respond or click on any attachments. Delete it immediately. These emails are NOT from the State Bar of California and may contain links to files that open malicious software.”

The subject line in the referenced email would get many lawyers to open it, wouldn’t it? It speaks to one of our greatest fears. That fear would override our knowledge that Bar complaints, like notices from the IRS, only arrive via regular mail.

So plus one for getting attention.

The spammer probably wasn’t selling anything but was looking to do harm, but suppose they were selling something like information on how to avoid ethics violations or services in the event of being so charged? Putting aside the fact that the email was unsolicited, we’d have to admit that the headline worked because it got us to open it.

The problem is that it was unsolicited email and there are some additional rules.

If instead of an email the same headline was used in a print ad, or in a letter sent by regular mail, we’d read it wouldn’t we? If there was a legitimate offer we probably wouldn’t complain to the state Bar. And we might be more likely to buy something because once the advertiser got our attention, however provocatively they did so, we saw that they offered a product or service we wanted to buy.

Context is crucial in marketing. It’s okay to be provocative and take risks. More than okay, it’s often a great way to get attention. Just make sure you don’t break the rules to do it.