Advice for “Promoting” Bad News
I don’t envy copywriters who seem to have a tough job promoting something new or improved that really isn’t new or improved.
Here’s today’s example. A financial institution installed an updated version of its online banking and bill pay system. Performing due diligence, they announced the change early and often. One communication tried to point out the great new benefits of the switch…but probably didn’t impress those consumers who are familiar with the online system.
One way “to enhance your BillPay experience,” the communication said, is to pay bills without being charged monthly fees. Well, I’ve been doing that since I enrolled. The free benefit is welcome, but doesn’t change or improve my experience.
Here’s another. I can schedule transactions for whatever dates I want the payments made. Uh, I’ve been doing that since Day One.
Oh, here’s one. I can transfer money between accounts. No, I could do that before the enhancements. Now I see there’s a fee to transfer money to another bank. Don’t recall that fee before the enhancements, but maybe it was hidden.
Now, as a consumer, I’m suspicious. I notice a couple of new services, but they have fees attached. Wasn’t online banking and bill pay entirely free before?
See what I mean? I feel sorry for the copywriter who had to disguise new fees behind the cloak of “enhancements.” It’s not easy.
Here’s my general advice to copywriters and to those who hand them projects like this. It’s fine to put the best face possible on products and services. We all agree on that. There are times when you must communicate bad news or negatives to your customers or position disadvantages in your promotional pieces. See if these ideas help you…
- Focus. When communicating changes, discuss only what’s changing. You confuse (maybe anger) people if you talk about every facet of the topic just to hide any negatives. That raises suspicions.
- Don’t bury all the bad news in footnotes. People are wary of footnotes and you make the bad news seem worse.
- If you must use footnotes, avoid big blocks of them. If you’re communicating using a brochure or mailers, break apart the footnotes. Organize them according to the pages where the pertinent information is placed. State them in plain English.
- If there’s a legitimate reason you can use, then use it. As a generic example: “Because of the increased costs of paper and transportation we pay, we must increase our price for ABC. However, your XYZ will continue to be free.” People will be more understanding and appreciate the honesty, and this approach makes your statements appear to be reasonable.
You’ll find consumers who read your copy are usually sophisticated enough to realize when you’re trying to disguise bad news in a maze of misdirection, fluffy words and platitudes.
Truth in advertising is more than a phrase that gets bounced about. Give your bad news as much of a good face as possible, but always be, and appear to be, completely honest.
Here’s more help: Communicate Change Correctly.