Destructive Marketing in Six Ill-Conceived Steps


This is a real postcard mailer.

I changed it to b/w and traced over the horrendous dark pink scar the patient had on her back, evidence of the seriousness of the surgical procedure she underwent.


Intelligent marketing reflects knowledge of the market and respect for the individuals who comprise it.



What’s wrong with it? Plenty!

  • A physician is manipulating an ugly emotion (self-loathing) to scare up business for unnecessary, invasive surgery. It’s unethical.
  • He’s hard-selling the notion that the natural signs of aging are “unfortunate” and “unsightly,” issues to be solved.
  • He’s hard-selling  notions of scarcity and unworthiness with the suggestion that you might not be a candidate for the surgery that will save you from being disgusting and socially unacceptable.
  • For the price of plastic surgery generally,  the cheap postcard stock, design deficit, inexpert strategy and amateurish  copywriting style are insultingly substandard.
  • Timing for the solicitation was wrong.  His competitor had introduced the new non-invasive body sculpting technology a week or so before this mailer went out.
  • Sequence is not only wrong, but also suggests panic. Why else rush to show a frightening Polaroid snapshot of incomplete healing with the *promise that it will look better later, rather than wait until there can be a polished photo to show an appealing and desirable final outcome?

Did the physician have to fight off hordes of takers at his front door? I don’t know.  Negativity isn’t known to catch many flies, though, and showing contempt for the audience is a less-favored means of influencing them to give you your way.


Expressing the gist of your message in graphical form has advantages. Hurried readers are more likely to pause and look at imagery, if it’s interesting or curious, than they are to stop for blocks of text when they have no immediate use for the topic. When you take time to winnow your words down so they can be expressed in imagery, you are likely to arrive at more efficient text content.

When you put your audience first, that is, treat them the way they want to be treated, you’ll automatically filter out messages that are blatantly self-serving or downright banal. The purpose you set will respond to the audience question, “why should I care?,” and the onus is on you to prove why, with arguments and graphics that make sense for the purpose.

Your marketing does make assumptions about people you don’t know, based on your ideal client profile. Your ideal client is a fantasy. Not a single member of your audience will match the profile exactly, detail by detail. It might be a good idea to review the assumptions you’re making about what your audience needs, to be sure your assumptions won’t insult anyone or reveal anything unflattering about you. “How dare you!,” “Who the hell do you think you are?,” and “Have you taken leave of your senses?” aren’t the responses you’re hoping to get.


It’s okay to laugh, now.

Persuasion for Everybody is a free and easy collection of articles about the  issues that concern writers in the new media mileu.

If you skip to the  Rhetorical Analysis section, you’ll find the system to follow for choosing words and graphic design that work to persuade the audiences for your business communications.

Be sure to read the section on visual literacy. The new Rhetoric incorporates visual communication formally into the body of knowledge that previously, from Aristotle forward, concentrated exclusively on speech and writing.

I’ve been arguing for (and teaching) visual analysis for nearly thirty years, so I know for a fact that the field of Rhetoric advanced conservatively in an environment of radical change.

Until human nature becomes resistant to persuasion,  the principles (canons) are still the organizing structure to use. However,  you are on your own when it comes to using it to discover what works for  the immediate situation and particular audience you have to work with.  The “Next New Thing” is history by the time Art and Science describe it.