The case for marketers being a bit more reckless in their content

The rule is that if for every one person that hates your brand, five people love it, then you are being effectively reckless in your marketing – claims copywriter Cole Schafer.

What an asshole. I thought to myself as I took a long sip from my iced coffee in hopes the caffeine would do something to calm my battered ego.

It was yesterday (or perhaps years ago depending on when you’re reading this). I had just spent three hours crafting what I thought was a killer marketing newsletter and sat frozen in anxiety as I hit send to my three-thousand person email list.

It might have been five-minutes, if that, when I heard a response back. It was from a chump named Tom: “Did anybody read that? Straight to unsubscribe.” Tom’s name has been changed for privacy purposes.

I felt my heart drop as his words sunk in. People unsubscribe from my list all the time. It comes with the territory of owning an email list. I know this. Everybody knows this. But, seeing my number of email subscribers drop is much different than hearing from an actual subscriber hating on my emails. It stings a bit. I must admit.

I took a couple minutes to cool down. Not for my sake. But for Tom’s. As a writer and marketer, I’m paid to write words that sell things to people and I’m pretty damn good at it.

And, as a marketer and writer, I’m also capable of doing some pretty nasty things with the written word too; like belittling an internet troll to the point of complete and total worthlessness.

Knowing this, I took a deep breath and simply sent back: “You’re off the list! Thanks Tom (:.” After I sent my response, I read my email newsletter in search of what could have triggered my angry ex-subscriber.

I quickly realised it was a title in the email – a title I thought was pretty clever considering the topic of the email. The title was “Pho” or “Pha” or “F***”?

In this particular newsletter, I shared a story about a savvy entrepreneur in Keene, New Hampshire in the United States, who came up with a killer pun for her new pho (pronounced “fa”) restaurant – Pho Keene Great.

While I certainly got a good snicker out of it (and I imagine some other pho lovers did too), the city of Keene was and still is outraged about this entrepreneur’s punny restaurant name. Anyway, I’m not sure if Tom was raised in an underground bomb shelter for the first few decades of his life, not once hearing a curse word, but something about the word F*** (that wasn’t even spelled out, mind you) really pissed him off.

So much so that he felt the need to take time out of his busy day to not just unsubscribe but send an insult with his act of unsubscribing – to rub salt in the wound if you will. And, as I thought about Tom’s email to me, I definitely started questioning myself. My creative copywriting shop has always taken a casual approach to discussing marketing and advertising, using the occasional curse word and at times writing and speaking in ways that perhaps more traditional brands and businesses would disapprove of.

But, could I have taken things too far? Is shit a curse word? F*** no. As you probably gathered from the above headline, no, I don’t think I took things too far. The way I have branded Honey Copy has been intentionally edgy and I believe I stayed true to this edginess in the email.

When I was starting a copywriting agency, I didn’t want a brand that was buttoned up. I didn’t want a brand that went to church on Sunday’s. I didn’t want a brand that tucked in its shirt nor shined its shoes. I still don’t.

And, what’s interesting is this. For the one negative email I got from Tom bashing my newsletter, I got five emails from five different subscribers praising it. This phenomenon is  certainly worth fleshing out –– to be cute let’s call it ‘the rule of marketing recklessness’.

The rule is that if for every one person that hates your brand, five people love it, then you are being effectively reckless in your marketing. Nike’s collaboration with Colin Kaepernick is an example of the rule playing in a brand’s favour.

In marketing, I think it is far better to be a bit reckless (and hated by some) versus bland and hated by none. I say this because if you’re being reckless (but are on brand) for every person that hates you, I think 5x or 10x people will love you.

I, personally, am okay with being hated – as long as I’m loved by far more people. So, for brands, I recommend the following if you’re interested in building an edgier more controversial brand, measure the negative responses compared to the positive ones.

If one person is emailing you each week sending you death threats, but five people are emailing you telling you you’re the best thing since sliced bread, I think you might be doing something right. But, what the f*** do I know.

Cole Schafer is a copywriter at Honey Copy. A version of this article was first published on his blog here


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