In arguing for why good writing is important to help a company seem credible and trustworthy, it’s often useful to look at the opposite of good writing – and SPAM messages are rife with this!
What’s interesting in the case of notices proporting to be from financial institutions is that it’s clear that the writers are using a voice that tries to sound very official and serious … just like they think a bank would sound. But the stand-out errors in them start to chip away at that vaneer pretty efficiently.
Even people who don’t edit people’s writing for a living will pick up on even minor gaffes and start to feel less invested in a message that was unsolicited to start with (and which may not even be from a bank we actually deal with).
To illustrate, here are three of the most odorous SPAM messages that have landed in my Inbox lately (well, of those I actually bothered to open and read …). Included are < my notes in carets > on just what makes them so pungent:
SPAM Message #1
This is an Alert to help manage your online banking access. < the alert is so important that they’ve capitalized it! >
Dear Bank Of Montreal customer < The bank must be important if they spell the word ‘of’ with a capital O >,
Bank Of Montreal Online Security has been receiving complaints from our customers for < complaints for? > unauthorised uses of Online Banking Accounts. As a result we are temporarily shutting down some selected Bank Of Montreal Online Accounts perceived vulnerable to this, pending till the time we carry out proper verification by the account owner < ‘pending till’? >. Bank Of Montreal is committed to ensure the safeguard of each customer personal information, making sure only authorised individuals have access to their accounts. <Whoa, you can tell this one was not written by an English speaker. >
As a first step to have Your < I must be divine, since they’ve used a capital Y >Bank Of Montreal Online Access reactivated please verify your identity by using the link provided below:
http://www.bmo.com/fraud.prevention/account/verification < This link actually takes you to one starting with ‘amourtoujours.net’ >
These instructions are sent to and should be followed by all Bank Of Montreal clients,to avoid service deactivation after the verification is completed < ‘are sent to and should be followed’ – nice use of the passive, and those nice mega-nouns ‘deactivation’ and ‘reactivation’ all in one sentence! >. We apologise for any inconveniences and thank you for your cooperation. . < Oops, they’ve left an extra period here! And don’t we spell it ‘apologize’ in Canada? >
Customers Support Service. <Well, they do support multiple people … >
SPAM Message #2
Dear Bank Of Montreal Customer:
BMO Bank Of Montreal is hereby announcing the New Security Upgrade. < Sound the trumpets! They’ve announced the Upgrade! >
We’ve upgraded our new SSL servers to serve our customers for a better and secure internet banking service < Was it not secure before …? >.
It is very important that you update your account information & other personal information < I’m not sure I’d give any personal info to someone using an ampersand to preface it >, please follow the link below to update your account then ‘Sign In’ to submit your request.
Click Here To Update Your Account < When you hover your mouse, it shows the URL: <http://autozap99.ru/… >
100% Online Banking Guarantee < also links to a bogus URL >
Bank Of Montreal
© 2011 offered by BMO Bank Of Montreal, N.A.
< Well, it must be a professional message if they’ve copyrighted it! >
SPAM Message #3
From: C.I.B.C. – Accounting Services [email@example.com]
Subject: CIBC Business Banking – Statement Summary Report – ’03/01/2012′
< Don’t they know how to spell their own name? >
DEAR CIBC BUSINESS BANKING CUSTOMER < Great, now they’re shouting at me. >
Kindly download the attachment to view your new account summary and confirm recent transactions on your account. < Nothing about why would I do this …?>
CIBC Financial Services < Wait, I thought the message was from Accounting Services. >
As this e-mail is an automated message, do not reply to this email.
No virus found in this message.
Checked by AVG – www.avg.com
Version: 2012.0.1901 / Virus Database: 2109/4742 – Release Date…
< Well, nice to know they’ve gone through the trouble of scanning this message before sending it. They must be trustworthy – look at all that technical info! >
So what’s my point?
We all have laughed about the awful SPAMs we’ve received. But they hold some very good lessons about how we can miss with our own customers if we’re not careful: with inconsistent spellings, bad punctuation, incomplete or uneven information, a tone and flow that doesn’t sound natural . . . the list goes on.
It’s something to think about the next time you’re writing an important message on behalf of your business.
While the above examples use the names of two major Canadian banks, I only leave them in because some of the errors have to do with using those brand names incorrectly or inconsistently.
Had those messages actually come from actual financial institutions (FIs), they would no doubt have been much better-written. And as fraud-prevention folks always say, a legitimate FI won’t contact its customers by broadcast email anyway.