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Reading This Could Save Your Life

March 13th, 2007 by Bob Bly

Recently, I got “spanked” by one of my subscribers, JB, who objected to the subject line on an e-mail I sent to my list.

It read: “Reading this e-mail could save your life.”

It was literally true, since the e-mail was about preventing a stroke and the 6 early warning signs that you are having a stroke.

“This is a horrific headline,” wrote JB. “I don’t appreciate such nasty tactics. If your skill as a copywriter has degenerated to this level, it’s time to unplug the PC.”

Preventing stroke is a personal issue with me, since I had one years ago — and my mother is in the hospital right now after having a series of strokes.

Other subscribers who wrote me were thankful for the information.

“A friend of mine had a stroke when he was 39 which could have been prevented,” wrote MF. “We never know how long we’re going to be on this earth, but I’d like to think we’ll last a little longer if we take care of ourselves.”

I wrote “Reading this e-mail could save your life” because (a) it was true and (b) I wanted to make sure my subscribers read my warning and advice on avoiding stroke.

Is JB right? Should I unplug the PC?

Or was the subject line effective and appropriate?


This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 13th, 2007 at 9:14 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

60 responses about “Reading This Could Save Your Life”

  1. Michael Stelzner said:

    Hey Bob;

    It is by all means a startling headline.

    I most certainly got me opening the email.


  2. SpongeBob Fan said:

    Bob – since you asked, I have to tell you that I deleted that email without opening it because I figured it was some “scary medical” promotion, and I have realized I don’t have the stomach (pun intended!) for that kind of message.

    If only your Subject line had said something along the lines of: “From Bob Bly – Important News About Preventing Strokes.” That I would have read in a minute!

    (Conincidentally, today is the one-year-healthy anniversary of a youngish woman friend of mine’s stroke. So the topic was super on my mind. Granted – that’s an odd coincidence. But, with the Subject line you had, my one-second Delete?/Read? thought was that I didn’t have the time this AM to dither about another way to be “saving my life.”)

    P.S. Looks like your original post here got cut off in mid-sentence.

  3. Michael Roach said:

    I don’t appreciate the tactic either. Although my reaction to it is not nearly as strong as JB’s, I much prefer an email subject line to tell me exactly what the email is about before I open it — like the one SpongeBob Fan proposed. Maybe it’s just the nerdy engineer in me.

  4. Mike Sieber said:

    Although I didn’t get this particular e-mail, I think it’s an effective headline. Please don’t unplug just yet Bob.

  5. Ray Edwards said:

    Bob, there are two questions here:

    1. Is this an effective headline? There is only one way to answer that question: did the promotion produce results. There is no arguing with the numbers (as you know).

    2. Is it “right” to use this headline? In my view, the subject is important enough that just about any tactic is acceptable, right up to and including that old classic: “Read This or Die!”

    I hope your Mom recovers quickly.

  6. BradFitz said:

    Depends on who your audience is. If it was to a list of subscribers you genuinely care about (as you imply) and trust & relationship building is the priority, then yes I believe scare tactics such as this do more harm than good. (if in fact people even opened it, or it got past the spam filters.)

    If you don’t *really* care about your audience and your sole motivation is making money from the list so you do whatever it takes to get your email opened, then no… scare away Bob.

  7. John Platt said:

    I only opened the email because I saw it was from you. I knew you were going somewhere with it. If I hadn’t trusted the sender or if it had been a random subject line, I would have deleted the email unread.

  8. Chris Williams said:

    Like Mr. Spongebob Fan up there, I too thought it was some medical promo. But the headline did grab me, all the same. I read the email and thought, “Okay, I see why Bob used that headline now. Good message.”

    I’m sure there could have been alternative headlines. I don’t think this was the best one, but it did its job. Looks like it’s getting you unintended PR, too!

  9. Jodi Kaplan said:

    I didn’t get the email, but I suspect that if I had, I would have opened it only because it was from you. Otherwise, I would have dismissed it as spam.

    I hope your mom recuperates quickly.

  10. SpongeBob Fan said:

    Also, of course!, hope for a quick recovery for your mother and an easy time for you & your family.

  11. Copywriting Services said:

    Hi Bob,

    Your using the headline is perfectly fine. I sincerely hope your mom recovers soon.

    However I fear marketers (Should we call them lazy marketers) would be all over the town with this subject line?

    I wonder how many people will be offended by that and get off their lists…

    Edward Santosh

  12. Chris Lake said:

    I too felt like the subject line was borderline aggressive. A little too spammy. I nearly deleted it sight-unseen. Unfortunately, the whole message turned me off — I didn’t feel that your recommendation of a healthcare product had the same authority as your own writing infoproducts and your partners’/affiliates’. Maybe I’m getting jaded the closer I get to 40…. Nevertheless, I will continue reading the messages you send to the list because I find value in many of the messages.

  13. Brett said:

    Keep it plugged in – it’s appropriate.

  14. Craig Hysell said:

    If you saved one life, just one, then not only was the headline true, it was worth it right? Is there a price tag on saving a life? Can being annoyed over an email headline justify a preventable death?

    Maybe I’m being an idealist here and maybe there is an alternative way to title the email, but the whole profession of copywriting is editing and maybes and alternatives (“ideals” is certainly up for debate it seems). Sure we can narrow down our edits and maybes with proper research but who in the hell has ever been one hundred percent satisfied with what they have written? It doesn’t exist.

    Could you have been more pointed in your title and actually mentioned the word “stroke”? Possibly. But why would I open something on “strokes” if I don’t believe I am in danger of having one? Keep the computer plugged in big guy. Can’t please ’em all…

  15. Suzanne Ryan said:

    I did receive that email–it took me some time to get to it because of all the other screaming headlines in my inbox.

    Bob, I didn’t know where you were going with that headline but I assumed you were being genuine because of your mom’s stroke (wishing her a speedy recovery). I do agree with Spongebob Fan’s suggestion for a headline. There are some situations where the marketese reflex should be put on hold.

    But I certainly wasn’t offended by the head line.

    It all boils down to what your true motives were in that email. Were you hired to write it? And if so, did you take the assignment because you feel strongly about the subject matter?

    As a relative newcomer to copywriter blogs and e-newsletters, I have just started to pick up on the trend of copywriters endorsing each others’ new products with eblasts. This is clever. But after awhile it runs the risk of losing credibility if they are doing it as hired guns.

  16. Terry Utella said:

    Definately don’t unplug. I wasn’t offended but I did mentally roll my eyes. If there’s any such life or death scenario immenent, I better get a phone call about it, not an email. It did dilute your credibility just a little but it was pretty high anyway so I’ll keep reading (or at least opening) your emails. Didn’t Michael Masterson write an article about that not too long ago for ETR- not hyping up one particular ad just to get temporary results that end up hurting your long term efforts?

  17. Bob Bly said:

    Terry: Does it matter that the subject line was totally hype-free and 100% true? Reading the e-mail and the Web site it linked to can and most likely will save someone’s life — and the information was right there on the site, absolutely free.

  18. Raphael Shammaa said:

    It’s a terrible headline.
    a) it positions the author as a snake oil salesman,
    b) it does not inform target readers (people at risk of a heart attack) that this information is of specific and unique value to them,
    c) it does not appeal to those who are not affraid of death, but are concerned about pain and suffering,
    d) it does not allude to the nature of the information: is it a how-to piece, is it preliminary advice, is it an easy list of do’s and dont’s,
    d) why should I read this piece instead of another piece about saving my career or saving my family, or saving my retirement assets, or…. Saving one’s life, surprisingly is not at the top of everybody’s priorities; but avoiding pain and suffering to one’s self and/or dear ones usually is.

    Better options could have been:
    a) Three compelling reasons to avoid a stroke.
    b) How to avoid a stroke and lead a meaningful life.
    c) Spoil your loved ones: Avoid a stroke.
    d) Strokes hit hard. If you look the other away.
    e) The real cost of unanticipated strokes.

    By omitting the word “stroke” in your headline, you lost a number of target readers who had no way of knowing you were talking to them and tring to help them.

    My professional advice: change the headline and re-submit the article.

    Raphael Shammaa
    Brand Counsel LLC

  19. Bob Bly said:

    Raphael: Testing does not support your arguments: one of the most successful health care promotions was a self-mailer with the simple headline: READ THIS OR DIE. It set sales records.

  20. Richard Schieck said:

    Hi Bob.
    It sounds like the “anti- headline” responders seem to think that this piece could have ended up in just anyones inbox.

    Now I am not 100% positive but I am sure that you would have sent this out to one of your subscriber lists.

    And like was said already, you are not going to please everyone.

    I thought it was very alerting and the article sure got me to think about quiting smoking as I to have had stroke affect my family.

    A speedy recovery to your mother and keep up the good work.


    PS: Do not pull the plug!

  21. Chui said:


    There is something not quite right about the headline.

    1) The claim is bold and daring, but the headline lacks authority
    2) This style of claims is associated with attention grabbing 3rd class mail

    I’d suggest adding more authority, or adding some humility to shave the edge off.

    e.g. From my doctor – an email that can save your life
    e.g. A little email that can literally save your life

  22. Bob Bly said:

    Update: apparently, this subject line did NOT turn off people on my list. We normally get 25 to 40 opt-outs per e-blast, but on this one, only 19 people unsubscribed. Also, click-through rate was an unspectacular but respectable 2.2%, which means I was able to get 880 subscribers to go to the Web site where the health information I wanted them to read was posted.

  23. Gisele said:


    Great headline.

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