Stupid Enough

This article is about how and why to use qualification in your marketing

If Nigerian scam artists are so successful at using SPAM, why are their emails so full of grammatical errors, typos, and – frankly – stupidity?

You might have seen the TED talk by the hilarious James Veitch: “This is what happens when you reply to spam email”. The speaker got a lot of laughs when he presented a spam email from a Nigerian scammer:

Click 'enable images' to see this screenshot from the TEDX talk on spam email

After reading the text of the email aloud, Veitch deadpans, “I now knew I was dealing with a professional”.

While this is a funny line, I’m afraid the joke’s on us. Watching this video, we’re lulled into a line of thinking that goes like this, “we’re sophisticated, the scammers aren’t”.

But is it the other way around?

Nigerian spammers have been at this for 25 years because it works. In fact, they’re clocking the bank. And they could afford to hire a proofreader or a Grammarly subscription. 

But they write their opening emails with laughably bad grammar on purpose; they ask this question:

Are you stupid enough to send us money?

Are you stupid enough to send half of your $1,200 stimulus check to a Nigerian prince, to secure his subsequent transfer of $12,000?

Because if you don’t object to:

  • a business proposition coming from Nigeria in the first place
  • incorrectly capitalizing the word Gold
  • conjugating the verb distribute incorrectly

Then you just might not object to sending money to someone you don’t know over the Internet. 

In this use case, typos and bad grammar are a filter to determine whether you are the right kind of customer. Waisting time following up with clever people who won’t send, let alone TEDx comics, isn’t part of the Nigerian scammer business model.

But here’s the funny thing – the same is true for you.

Sidebar: this question over whether marketing is evil is the wrong question. The right question: is the marketer evil?.  I’m assuming you’re not. On top of that, you have something valuable to offer. 

This means you can use the same qualification technique that a slimy Internet con artist uses. Here’s how you say it: you are this and you are not that, that, or that. Here’s an example from my own business website.

Note that there’s nothing wrong with falling into the “you’re not” category. You could have a very interesting business person and be an interesting person to talk to, as I point in subsequent paragraphs. It’s just that you’re not my ideal client. Some marketing agencies focus on local-market businesses, such as doctors, auto dealerships, or NYC law firms. Others focus on nothing but physical product entrepreneurs. They’re probably more profitable than I am. I’m just not interested in solving those problems, nor I am good at it. 

The takeaway is that is to say who you’re for and who you’re not for. Somehow that will translate into marketing copy.

In marketing, this is called qualification. It’s also used in direct sales, dating, connection-making, and all walks of life. The challenge is to use it deliberately and skillfully.

Nigerian scammers have many more decades of experience at this than we do, however. So it may take some time. But aspire to their standard: hook the right reader in one or two sentences; while disqualifying everyone else.

Warm regards,