Billion-Dollar Blunder: How a Lousy Holiday Ad Can Make You a Better Autoresponder Copywriter

I always pay closer attention to holiday ads, because I know the enormous time, effort, and money spent by most big companies to rake in that last big pile of cash before year's end.

And this year, one TV commercial especially caught my eye …

Maybe you've seen the campaign — it's for Lexus automobiles, and it's based on the same holiday theme they've used for several years now.

Typically, it’s set on a snowy Christmas morning, a pajama-clad couple walking to the window to see … a brand-new Lexus in the driveway, complete with oversized ribbon and bow.

This year's campaign is based on the same premise — shiny new luxury vehicle in the snowy driveway, complete with gigantic ribbon and bow. But, there's a new wrinkle …

Before the big reveal, Spouse #1 plays a little 10-note tune that Spouse #2 INSTANTLY recognizes as the Lexus holiday ad song.

In one ad, the tune is played on a music box. In another, it's elevator music. Still another has it coming from a Guitar Hero type of game.

But, every ad centers around this one tune, which is obviously instantly recognizable by everyone in the world as the “Lexus holiday ditty,” right?


And, therein lies the rub …

Lexus has built an entire holiday television campaign around the supposition that everyone is very familiar with their unique holiday music and will totally get the commercials.

Unfortunately, what no one at Lexus seems to understand is that their little holiday sound bite is NOT an iconic advertising jingle in the likes of "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" or "You deserve a break today" or even "I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Weiner."

Not even CLOSE.

In my opinion, this is a blunder of colossal proportions (or "epic fail" as my kids would say). Instead of viewers instantly recognizing the song and staying glued to the screen, they're wrinkling their foreheads and saying, "Huh?" Or worse yet, Tivoing right through it.

And just like that, millions of dollars in advertising (and possibly billions in revenue) is wasted.

Interestingly enough, I've seen the same thing happen in copywriting — especially in emails and autoresponders.

Someone falls in love with an idea or a theme and writes an email revolving around it. Only problem is, nobody knows what in the world they're talking about.

We've all received emails like this — they go on and on about something that's obviously very important to the writer, but not important at all to the reader. Which causes the recipient to lose interest quickly and delete the message.

So, how do you get around this? How do you grab the reader's attention and draw them into your email (and subsequently down to a clickable link)?

Easy — you just have to think GLOBAL.

Global themes are those which will be recognizable to most everyone who gets your message. These are the things that virtually everyone knows about or are at least a little familiar with.

Global themes can come from a variety of sources. Here are few I've found that can be extremely effective when used properly in email and autoresponder copy.

Current Events

What's going on in the U.S.? Or the world? These are popular topics of discussion in many different circles, and can provide valuable fodder for your email copy.

I've seen many autoresponders center around the flailing U.S. economy, and they do a tremendous job at tying the issue into a want/need/desire/problem the prospect is experiencing. Then, they position the product or service they're selling as the answer.

Same goes with major news events. If the world is watching, it's a safe bet you can use it in an email or autoresponder with great success. But by all means, use common sense here. Gross national product of Luxembourg? Not news. Royal wedding? HUGE news. So please, be sensible in what you choose.

(Quick tip — the more positive the event, the better. Although you can turn a bummer like the economy into a great email, too much yuckiness just brings everyone down.)


Let's face it: we're a world that worships celebrity. When a bunch of spoiled, surgically-enhanced dimwits like the Kardashians can make the nightly news and cause millions to buy up those weekly rags you find in line at the grocery store, then we're officially corrupted.

However, you can use this to your advantage when writing emails and autoresponders.

People eat up anything that has to do with celebrities, and if you lead with an interesting tidbit about an actor, singer, or sports personality who's in the news right now, you'll pull in readers like fish to bait.

Just remember — make it global. If you go on and on about an obscure hip hop artist, you'll miss terribly. But, if it's the flavor-of-the-month on the cover of Star Magazine? May be worth exploring.

Personal Experiences

Here's one I like to use often, because it can be so effective. I've related stories about my kids, wife, friends, family, school chums, past work experiences, you name it. And, they all seem to hit a note with readers.

Why? Because we all have common experiences to share. Your first kiss. Wedding day jitters. The baby throwing up on your new shirt. That vacation from hell. There are virtually hundreds of stories you can use in your emails and autoresponders to make them more effective.

Here's the thing — when you start telling one of these stories, people begin to NOD THEIR HEADS with you in agreement. Because they've been there and done that in similar fashion. They know exactly what you're talking about.

And, when you’ve got them nodding their heads with you, you’ve got them right where you want them.

That's just three great sources for global topics to use in your emails and autoresponders.

One thing I'd like to add though …

If you do lead with some type of global story like I've mentioned above, you MUST tie it in with the prospect's want/need/desire/problem they're experiencing, and how that issue can be solved by the product.

This is where an email or autoresponder transitions from an interesting story — like something you might share around the water cooler at work — to an actual marketing tool.

For example, I had a great story about my daughter watching The Karate Kid, and trying to imitate the signature martial arts move used in the movie. But, she kept falling down.

I quickly saw the correlation between her efforts and what my client's prospects were experiencing at the moment (trying to build a business, always failing, etc.). So, I told the story and positioned the product as the "Mr. Miyagi" they needed to help them achieve the goal.

The email worked like gangbusters and the client LOVED it. Why? Because it connected the two seemingly unrelated topics with a common thread. The reader never felt like he was being sold. He was just reading a cute story about my daughter … one he could probably relate to with his own kids.

See how this works?

The key is to find that global theme or story and make it work with what you're selling. Once you master this, your emails and autoresponders will virtually leap off the page and your clients will be clamoring to give you more projects.

Oh, and if Lexus calls? By all means, take the gig. They need all the help they can get.

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Published: December 26, 2011

3 Responses to “Billion-Dollar Blunder: How a Lousy Holiday Ad Can Make You a Better Autoresponder Copywriter”

  1. So, I'm curious... How would you approach the Lexus commercial?

    Guest (Sherice)

  2. Here's what David Ogilvy said about the problem:

    "Car manufacturers assume that you are not interested in facts. Indeed, their advertising is not aimed at consumers. Its purpose is to win an ovation when it is projected on the screen at hoopla conventions of dealers. Show-biz commercials have that effect. Sober, factual advertising does not. If their engineering was as incompetent as their advertising, their cars would not run ten miles without a breakdown." (From "Ogilvy on Advertising")

    Clarke Echols

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