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Marketing lessons from Phishing phone calls

Alex Ashman
December 14, 2018
HMRC Phishing calls

Yesterday, at a petrol station on my way into the office on my typical mad rush to the office post school drop off last week, I picked up a voicemail. I don’t like voicemails at the best of times.

When you’re out and about it’s hard to action anything that needs doing without having a computer or at least pen and paper in front of you, and plus there’s the unknown - is it an emergency? What have I forgotten to do? Why couldn’t they just call back again later?

“This is an urgent message. This is Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs. This is your case officer X. We have been trying to reach you to let you know that we are filing a lawsuit against you. Press 1 to speak to your case officer....”

As I digested the message, with petrol pump in hand, I realised I’d been duped again into wasting my time. This is probably the 4th or 5th time in the last few couple months, a new variation of the same hoax calls had managed to gain my complete attention.

Deleted and marked as a spam caller, I carried on my journey to the office. A little annoyed I’d not hung up earlier on the voicemail, it got my thinking. I’ve just finished reading “Making Ads Pay - Timeless tips for successful copywriting” by John Caples, a very dated book (it’s focused on coupon code copy in print media), but with some fantastic marketing principles and examples, many of which were being used by the Spam caller, which lead to them being so effective. We’ve recently taken on some new clients’ Google Ads accounts, so as a team have been looking hard at copywriting in some very competitive industries.

Here’s some things the phishing calls do well which I think we should learn from:

“This is an urgent message for you” - They’ve picked a target audience and named it - “me”

“It’s HRMC” - authority

Your warrant number is “123444” - be specific, this adds credibility and makes it believable.

“We need to do “x”...” - A clear call to action

“ tomorrow, or “y” will happen” - timebound to add urgency,

The “timeless tips” described in John Caples’ book are indeed still in use and still just as effective today.  No doubt we’ll all continue to get spam calls from time to time. Next time, perhaps give them a full listen and see if there’s anything you can learn that could help your advertising efforts.

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