More power to you: 4-wd dm letta from BT is lol

The first sentence in a sales letter is important. Especially when it’s the only one.

I’m launching a brand new course tomorrow at the London College of Communication that focuses on the mysterious world of direct mail. I cut my copywriting teeth creating direct-response ads and sales letters, so it’s a subject close to my heart. As a result, I’m always looking out for innovative new creative approaches and techniques. “Junk” mail is unlikely to go in the bin at home. The chances are that it will head to the filing cabinet or scanner.

I’m indebted to my former colleague Alice (who blogs amusingly here about her preparations for the London marathon) for a convention-defying letter that will be great fun to show in the class. It was sent out by BT in December to promote their text service that allows UK customers to send and receive SMS messages on their home phone.

What exactly made this letter different and worthy of comment? Well, direct marketing science tells us that long letters generally perform better than short ones. That’s why you see letters running to two, three and four pages in many commercial and charitable mailpacks. You need time to explain the central benefits of your product, outline your offer and overcome any potential objections. You’re not there in the room with the customer to answer questions, so everything they need to know should be written down in black and white.

But BT apparently didn’t agree. They decided that two pages would be too much. In fact, they decided that two sentences would be more than they needed. Their extraordinary letter had only one line after the salutation, which sat in acres of white space. It said simply R U OK? Some more white space followed and led to the sign-off from Jillian Lewis, the company’s Customer Services Director.

Now, admittedly they cheated just a little. There are a couple of short paragraphs in the place where textbooks would normally tell you to put a PS. The copy starts: “There are times when you just want to send a short message home rather than have a long drawn-out conversation. With BT Text you can now send and receive texts on your home phone.” The net result is that the sales letter reads more like a traditional press ad, with the truncated body copy acting as a headline. It’s very brave. And it works a treat.

I do, however, intend to teach my students some of the more traditional conventions of letter writing. After all, it’s good to know the rules before you choose to break them into very tiny pieces.

© Phil Woodford, 2006. All rights reserved.

Phil Woodford is a freelance writer and trainer. He works as an associate lecturer at the University of the Arts London.