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Hurry Up or You'll Be Sorry!

February 3, 2010  

Some companies seem addicted to email campaigns that shout breathless, time-sensitive offers. Each week, it seems, they tell subscribers about special deals that simply can't be missed—only to make a similar offer the following week.

In a post at the Email Marketing Reports blog, Mark Brownlow provides a screenshot with 19 emails sent from one such company over a three-month period. Typical subject lines shout messages like these:

  • One more day to SAVE 15%
  • Save BIG with 20% OFF
  • Limited-time only – SAVE 10%
  • HUGE SALE 5 days only
  • Holiday SAVINGS 25% OFF
  • Weekend savings: Act now and SAVE 20%

The unrelenting onslaught of urgent, discounted offers probably generates short-term sales and ROI, Brownlow concedes, but he worries about the strategy's long-term consequences.

"I suspect newcomers to this list are much more likely to respond to urgency," he notes. "Why? Because long-timers are conditioned to understand that you can easily ignore the discount deadline: the next one will be along in a few days time."

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  • by Michelle Whalen Wed Feb 3, 2010 via web

    Agreed! Crying wolf leads to canceled subscriptions!

  • by thecynicalmarketer Wed Feb 3, 2010 via web

    Thanks for a great piece full of valuable insights. I would not be so quick to dismiss the cry-wolf approach as a sound method for commodity products that have frequent transactions. For example, Borders sends weekly coupons on Tuesdays that expire the following Sunday. If you are not in the market for a book you simply ignore it. If you are, the time limited offer is a motivator. This is a similar approach to the Sunday FSIs that so many retailers churn out with specials that end that week. It is an accepted practice and it has been proven to be very effective; not for nuclear reactor sales of course, but for most consumables.

    The second issue is testing. As marketers, we often like to play our hunches or follow our gut, and it usually works. Testing and measurement are the keys to every effective marketing program. Send too many cry-wolf emails, see your open, click-through, and subscriber numbers fall – which could be bad… unless you get a much higher conversion rate and drive more sales. Here’s an example, my local furniture store has been running a “going-out-of-business sale” for 15 years and counting. Sure, they have no credibility whatsoever, but they do have great prices and they do a ton of revenue, the latter being their number one goal. I think it is important for marketers to stay focused on their corporate goals (for most it should be revenue) and constantly measure against those goals.

    Best regards, JohnnyB.
    TCM blog,

  • by Laurie Wed Feb 3, 2010 via web

    I agree with this completely -- along with the obnoxious counterpart, the fake "apology" combined with an "I'm sorry discount."

    Sometimes wondered if I was just hypersensitive because I'm a marketer and not just a consumer (and so can see through the tactics better). But I suspect you're correct that it doesn't take the average consumer long to deduce the patterns of repeated "urgent" emails.

  • by Benny Shaviv Thu Feb 11, 2010 via web

    I hate time limited campaigns. They piss me off as a consumer, even insult me. And then I find my insulted-self buying something... as long as it was something I was going to buy anyway and the price is right.

    The question we need to ask ourselves is what is the difference between time limited email campaigns and the time limited TV/Print/Billboard campaigns?

    Personally, I am not a big fan of email sales campaigns altogether, but I do agree with John (TCMBlog) that they can be productive, especially in the B2C world (er... as long as I'm not on the mailing list).

    Benny Shaviv

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