Scams, spam and the right tone of voice

How copywriting gives away the e-cheats.

We all get them. They squeeze through our spam filters and squirm their way into our inboxes pretending to be something they aren’t. Then they offer us something they think is irresistible to make us click on their evil, bank-account-emptying links.

This week it was an email that purported to be from Who’s Who. It flattered me by recognising my status and telling me how well known I am in my field. Then it waffled on about how prestigious it was for me to be acclaimed in this way. Yes, all I had to do was to tell them everything I could think of about myself: name (you’d have thought they’d know this), address, date of birth… you can guess the rest. And I’d be up there with the great and the good, with my achievements printed for all to read. They also explained what Who’s Who is, just in case I’d got this far in life without noticing.

Who me? Well known for my copywriting? My unique ability to discourage internal communications departments from using jargon?

It didn’t specify.

I’ve had the usual who’s who scams before – the business directories for copywriters, the ones for top UK or US businesses. But never one that claimed to be from the real Oxford University Press, 169-year-old guide to those with ‘distinction and influence’ (it says on their website).

While it would be lovely to think that I might be distinguished and influential one day, I’m really not. So I’d dismissed it in around ten seconds. But what gave it away for me was the opening phrase: ‘It is with great pride that we…’

The tone of voice was all wrong. Well, not all wrong. Just not quite right. The scammers’ copywriter was good but hadn’t grasped the essence of the brand.

What does Who’s Who stand for?

The real Who’s Who is not proud. Thinking about the well-established publication, you’d probably describe it as authoritative, accurate, respected and respectful, quietly confident and influential.

No copywriter familiar with Who’s Who’s tone of voice would start an email announcing their pride. (And anyway, I suspect they’d write a letter and put it in the post.)

Then again, I’ve had some real emails whose language didn’t reflect their organisations’ brands either. Whoever wrote them either hadn’t read or understood their tone of voice guidelines, or hadn’t had any practical training in how to use them.

When writers get it wrong

Often it’s because they’ve got mistakes in them: typos, sloppy punctuation, long rambling sentences that lose the plot along the way, or a long word that’s someone’s dropped in aiming to sound impressive, but doesn’t really understand. And they’re way off their own brand personality.

The scammers are doing their absolute best to use a tone of voice that reflects the brand they are copying. Long may they fail.

But the genuine organisations? What’s their excuse? When scammers are trying harder all the time to get their language right in order to steal our money, then companies should pull their socks up and keep their brand tone of voice in order to get our business legally.

Don’t you think?

Add to the Afia weird tone of voice collection

We like collecting examples of good, bad and appalling copywriting. Things that have escaped from organisations that ought to know better, and slipped past the brand tone of voice guidelines without touching the does. If you’ve spotted some, send us a link or an email. And we’re collecting brilliant scams as well. Send us those too if you get a moment.