You’d be excused for expecting a state government agency like the Division of Motor Vehicles to use stodgy messaging that sounds about as old as some of the cars they issue registrations for. But you’d be wrong, at least in the case of the Virginia DMV, which uses fresh, highly effective content to entice residents to buy new license plates.
What’s There to Love About a Registration Renewal Notice? A Lot, Actually.
A few years back, the Virginia DMV sent me a notice that my vehicle registration was coming due for annual renewal. No surprise there.
What was remarkable: the crazy-good writing and underlying conversion strategies used by the DMV.
At the time, I was still driving around with the same license plates that had come with my late 1990s Honda. DMV wanted to convince me to shell out some cash to upgrade those plates. Here’s the promotional piece they sent me, along with a few observations about what makes this content work:
#1: Play to Emotions
DMV must have checked their database and seen that my license plates were at least a decade old. Apparently, that can lead to problems. As the piece says, “Old plates may be difficult to read, making you subject to a traffic violation.”
Nothing like spreading a little FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) to motivate your audience.
This piece also works the other side of the emotional spectrum…
Turns out, there are a lot of ways the new license plates can be expected to brighten my days. From helping me celebrate a favorite sports team or honoring my military service, to promoting a cause I hold near and dear to my heart.
Who said this was just a mundane purchase?
#2: They Use Active Verbs and Parallel Structure
This is an oldie but goodie. If you’re writing a list of items, that list will almost always read better and be more compelling if you use active verbs.
What’s an active verb? Take a look at “Purchase” in the lead phrase, “Purchase a new license plate today!” That’s an active verb. If the person writing this piece had used the passive form of the verb, the phrase would have looked something like this: “New license plates are available for purchase.” Doesn’t carry the same punch, does it?
This writer also understood that if one active verb is good, many in a row are better:
Replace an old, faded plate
Show your support for a favorite sports team or school
Display your personal style
Show pride in your military service
Share your enthusiasm about an important cause
Test drive a new plate today!
Replace, Show, Display, Show, Share, Test. That’s parallel structure.
This list would have been even better if the writer hadn’t repeated “Show.” One solution: change the second phrase to, “Celebrate a favorite sports team or school.”
And here’s a tip for those of you who’d like to up your presentation game: remember to use parallel structure the next time you create text bullets for a slide.
If your first line begins with an active verb, then lead off every bullet with an active verb.
Our minds love order and logical structure in language, and we hate inconsistency. Place a noun or passive verb in the middle of a bulleted list that otherwise begins with active verbs and it will stick out like a sore thumb. Something will look slightly “off” to your audience, even if they can’t consciously identify the problem.
#3: Close with a Call to Action
Let’s not forget the most important active verb of all: “Test drive a new plate today!” Instead of leaving things to chance, the piece comes right out and says what action they want me to take.
So, did it work? Did this little piece of bureaucratic copywriting nirvana drive me to buy a new license plate?
But the state government gods got their revenge in the end. Several months later, one of my old license plates gave up the ghost and fell off my car while I was driving somewhere. I didn’t notice the missing plate until days – or maybe even weeks – had gone by.
At that point, I had no choice but to buy new plates.
Still didn’t upgrade to those vanity plates, though. So DMV lost in their bid to upsell me.
Share Your Thoughts
Where have you seen a surprising example of exceptional – and highly effective – writing? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on social media.
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