brand · case studies · user experience · venting

Tone of voice matters (show some respect)

I had to share with you this particularly appalling piece of email marketing that hit my inbox the other day. The back story is that somehow I had come across a £25 voucher to use at VirginWines – I went and had a look at the site to see if it was something I was interested in – after all, £25 worth of wine for free is usually something I was interested in. Before I realised that I would have to spend well in excess of my £25 voucher to be able to buy any wine on this site, I registered to ‘redeem my voucher’ and gave them my email address.

Several weeks later, this arrives:

Dear Leisa

I am not a sensitive person by nature, but I have to say that I am feeling a little hurt. We’ve invited you into our Club, but you’ve clearly decided not to.

So, as a one-off attempt at sheer bribery, I‘m offering you your first, trial Club case HALF PRICE at just £47.88 (that‘s a ridiculously low £3.99 a bottle!). Plus, two FREE gifts, worth £30. That‘s an overall saving of nearly £80.

Sound good? Then click here to claim your HALF PRICE case and FREE GIFTS.

But you‘re probably not ready to join yet. You‘re probably thinking…

I can buy the wines anywhere.

Well you can‘t actually. The boutique wines we reserve for our Club Members never appear in the supermarket. And they are always offered to members at a lower price than non-members get them for.

It‘s just like one of those ghastly book clubs.

Er…sorry, not correct on this one either. Quite simply, you have no obligation to take any wine you don‘t want. You don‘t even have to pay us for any wines that don‘t blow your socks right off.

I‘m not the joining type.

If we explained that the reason we have a Club in the first place is because 40,000 people can buy better than 1, perhaps you‘d change your mind? If you join us, 40,001 people will buy better than 40,000.

Or maybe you‘ve just not got around to it. Which is fine. People who buy wine by the case tend to be busy.

So what would be a good reason?

Here‘s one good reason to test us out right now. We‘re keen to recruit new Members. So, for one last time I‘m offering you your first, trial Club case HALF PRICE at just £47.88

Take our HALF PRICE case NOW, and you‘ll receive a complimentary pair of beautiful Dartington Wine Glasses, completely FREE. Plus, a FREE professional lever corkscrew, worth £20.

Still not sure?

What is the worst thing that can happen? If you don‘t like the wines, I promise to refund you instantly, without any fuss whatsoever. If you agree that these wines are a big step better than you can get in the supermarket, you can look forward to a lifetime of feeling superior to non-members.

So why don‘t you join us now and find out what it‘s all about for yourself? Not next week, but right now.


Rowan Gormley
Founder, Virgin Wines

0870 050 0305

The insight that the tone taken in this email gives me to this brand is profound, and frankly, I don’t want anything to do with a company who has this kind of attitude in their customer communications.

We’ve spoken before about positive ways to handle ‘abandonment’ – well, here is the flipside, a combination of guilt-tripping (‘I am not a sensitive person by nature, but I have to say that I am feeling a little hurt. We’ve invited you into our Club, but you’ve clearly decided not to’), cynicism (‘So, as a one-off attempt at sheer bribery…’) and smart talk (‘Er…sorry, not correct on this one either…’). Yes, consumers today are media literate and this level of ‘openness’ could potentially work well, but be nice about it. I’m supposed to enjoy buying wine, with this email VirginWine have put me right off my drink!

Take care with your tone – and of course, this applies to any kind of copy that you’re writing. And know that only *very* few brands can be anything but nice to their customer.

6 thoughts on “Tone of voice matters (show some respect)

  1. I feel slightly unwell reading that, and it’s not even addressed to me! Apparently Virgin’s copywriting is quite poor across a range of their services, a friend of mine reports that their credit card statements stop just shy of “yo, duuuude!” as a salutation.

    “consumers today are media literate and this level of ‘openness’ could potentially work well”

    That’s exactly what makes this so poor, I think; are you seriously suppose to believe that you’ve hurt and upset the founder? There’s a degree to which I think people might weary of brands being sickeningly cute, but I don’t think that brands being sulky and defensive is the answer to that.

  2. Ironically, you’ve just given these folks more exposure *through your frustration with them* than they would have received had you simply signed up for their service.

    Who says social media marketing doesn’t work? ;)

  3. I agree it’s irritating, but mostly because it’s so long, and ironically all those repetitions of HALF PRICE give it a very traditional feel even though the copywriter is no doubt aiming for the opposite.

  4. Alex Mitchell pointed me at this – it reminded her, and reminds me, of the frankly stalky letter I just received from Boden clothes catalogue:

    Hello Dr Stranger,

    This is a tricky letter to write. You see, sometime ago we sent you one of our catalogues. Perhaps you don’t remember. If not, let me recap, I have ginger hair, we make clothes, they’re really quite nice.

    Perhaps you do, but can’t quite bring yourself to give us a go. Or maybe you thought we sold cafetieres and chucked it away.

    Whatever the reason, it strikes me that an extra nudge may be called for. I was wondering if a free Tenner might help move things along?


    What do you have to lose?

    Johnnie Boden

    Weird and ingratiating as a stranger on a bus demanding to know why you won’t give them your phone number. Boden bought my details from another company, and I’m not pleased with either of them.

  5. It’s interesting that this has prompted such a strong negative reaction; it struck me as being quite poorly executed, but overall very consistent with the Virgin brand.

    Of course, whether or not that’s a good thing depends entirely on your opinion of the Virgin brand.

    I agree with Robin that it’s a bit long-winded, and that the HALF PRICE shouting gets rather irritating. But most of all I’m just surprised that something so bland managed to inspire such an impassioned response (“this particularly appalling piece of email marketing”).


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