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Introducing The Fabulous 6 + 1 Model For Effective Copywriting (Better Than AIDA!)

AIDA. Attention, interest, desire, action.

It’s the classic copywriting formula, studied and used by almost every copywriter on the planet. Well, I’m not a fan.

Not because it isn’t accurate, and not because it doesn’t work. If your writing can get attention, grab interest, create desire and prompt action, then you’re doing a lot of things right.

If your writing isn’t doing these things, however, then I don’t think AIDA will help you very much, because it doesn’t do enough to explain how to do any of these things.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

The best way to learn is by example, so let’s look at a promotional failure and see how it conforms to AIDA but still doesn’t work.

Notebook and Pen5
(Image source: alt10406)

Text-Message Loan Sharking? Link

I recently received a text message from a number I didn’t recognize. It read:

Coming up short between pay-days? You can solve the problem NOW with a $300–$1000 INSTANT–Advance! Respond YES if interested, NO–to–STOP

(Image: someToast8)

Now, obviously, I didn’t text back the anonymous sender with a “Yes.” I didn’t text them back with a “No” either. I called the number to tell them that I don’t appreciate unsolicited spam marketing. But no one answered; the call went to a voicemail box that was full.

I was unimpressed before; this sealed the deal!

Let’s see how this piece of marketing stacks up on the AIDA scale:

  • A for attention
    Sure, the text message got my attention. After all, text messaging is an interruptive medium; you’re bound to get attention that way.
  • I for interest
    Okay, I’ll play along. Let’s say that I am, in fact, coming up short between pay days: the message would have my interest. So far, so good.
  • D for desire
    Also good. If I’m broke and need cash, then I’d definitely want an advance.
  • A for action
    Well, the message called for action (“Respond YES if interested”), but it didn’t lead to action. Fail.

What Was Missing? Why Didn’t It Work? Link

The missing element in this campaign was context: who are they, why are they contacting me, and why should I trust them?

Context is a critical component of effective messaging. Without it, action likely won’t result, even if you call for it.

The trouble with AIDA is that it implies that attention leads to interest, which then leads to desire, which in turn leads to action. But a piece of the puzzle is still missing: context.

AIDA doesn’t give you all of the ingredients that combine to result in action — which is what you ultimately want!

A Better Model: 6 + 1 Link

This model is a little more complex, which is a good thing.

Complexity is important — critical, even. And in this case, it involves information that AIDA lacks but that is needed in order to write effective copy (unless you’re one of those people to whom it comes as naturally as speaking). Here, then, is the 6 + 1 model, with six steps plus one extra thing you’ve got to cover along the way.

Ready to dive in? Let’s get started with the first item.

Step 1: Context Link

The very first thing you need to do, before trying to get attention or anything else, is establish context. Answer the audience’s implicit question, “Who are you, and why are you talking to me?”

No Junk Mail9
(Image: loop_oh10)

Too many marketers compete for the attention of every single person, so establishing context is necessary to stand out from the crowd. Junk mail is a perfect illustration. The context of junk mail is, “You don’t know us, but we want to sell you something!” That’s why most junk mail ends up in the trash, unread.

A campaign that establishes context, on the other hand, might arrive in a personally addressed envelope and be written in the form of a letter. The context here is implied, and the proportion of people who open the envelope would be much higher. The first few sentences, naturally, would explain why the recipient is familiar with the sender and needs the product or service.

Just as the recipient’s question of “Who is this person talking to me?” is implicit, so too can be the answer. For example, if you’re reaching out to someone in response to a job offer that they’ve posted, you would send them a cover letter and CV. The combination of circumstances and the format of your letter make it clear why you’re reaching out to them.

That being said, you always want to create as strong a context as possible. So, you would start the cover letter by mentioning where you found the job posting and why you felt you should apply (you’ve always wanted to work for this company, you love the industry, etc.) This explicit context immediately puts you ahead of other applicants.

In the text-message example above, context could have been established with a link to a website where I could learn more about the company, or even an automated message at the end of the phone number, instead of a computer telling me that the voicemail box is full.

Better yet, the text message could have begun with a few words reminding me of previous interactions I might have had with the sender. For example, my wireless service provider occasionally sends me text messages about new offers and services, and they always begin with, “Dear Rogers customer…” This instantly lets me know that I am being contacted by someone I know for a specific reason. The sender is credible because it provides a service to me, so I am very likely to read its message. Of course, this works only when the sender has some sort of relationship with the recipient — but that makes for the best messaging in any case.

Context comes down to the reason why your audience is being exposed to your message. If they are subscribers to your blog, then that subscription serves as the context for any email you send them. If the content is found on your website, then the person’s search for information about your topic or service is the context. If you’re running an ad in a newspaper or magazine, then the theme of that publication is the context.

Step 2: Attention Link

Once context has been established, you can go ahead and grab the audience’s attention.

If you’re the writer, you’ll do so with the headline. And if you’re the designer, you will make sure that, at first glance, the presentation is eye-catching.

Plenty of resources out there will teach you how to do that, so I won’t go into detail in this article. Suffice it to say that you have to grab your audience’s attention and hold it until you can create…

Step 3: Desire Link

The reality of marketing in this day and age is that attention is short-lived. Where we once spoke of 15 minutes of fame, today it’s a lot closer to 15 seconds.

In the span of those 15 seconds, you have to make your audience want something, and want it badly enough to keep on reading.

If you’re writing a blog post, this would happen in your opening paragraphs, the section before the <more> tag. It’s the hook: you’ve grabbed their attention, and now you’ve got to reel them in by describing the symptoms that they’re experiencing, ideas that they may not have considered, or outcomes that they want for themselves. This will inspire them to continue reading, and then you can go into detail and describe…

Step 4: The Gap Link

You’ve got their attention, and created desire — at this point your prospect should be convinced that they need to take action of some kind.

Now you must drive home the idea by communicating the difference between what will happen if they do nothing and what will happen if they take advantage of your product or service. We call this establishing the gap.

You can do this by asking, “What if nothing changed? What would that mean?” Then spell it out for them.

The answer might be emotional; after all, you’re talking about the painful implications of their current situation — the prospect of the situation not changing is scary. This is an excellent time to use examples and case studies to highlight the consequences of inaction.

Step 5: Solution Link

You can’t leave the reader in this state; once you’ve established the gap, transition quickly into your solution. It’s important to say that you have a solution, and to tell them as much as they need to know in order to understand that it will work — but no more. Any extra detail is an opportunity to question or disagree with you, so keep information about how the solution works on a strictly need-to-know basis.

Of course, all of the usual best practices about speaking to emotional versus rational benefits, rather than features, and addressing your one ideal customer11 still apply. No need to rehash them here.

Step 6: Call to Action Link

Of course, you have to end with a call to action, which requires you to do two things:

  1. Identify the single next step that you want your audience to take when they’re done reading. Not an array of options (“Call us on the phone or visit our website or follow us on Twitter or…”), just one next action.
  2. Explicitly ask the audience to take that action. Don’t dance around the issue; if you want them to do something, say so.

Again, this is familiar territory, so I won’t go into any more detail here.

It’s tempting to think that we’re done with the model, but don’t forget the +1 part of the model. One important thing still needs to be covered.

Credibility: The Extra Step Along The Way Link

You can do all of the above and you’ll be well on your way to a sale, but you still won’t get it without one more ingredient, added along the way. That ingredient is credibility.

Starbucks Message12
(Image: Denise Cross13)

If the reader doesn’t believe what you say, or doesn’t believe that you’re in a position to say it, then they have no reason to follow through on anything you ask them to do, no matter how well you cover the other steps in your content.

To establish credibility, you have to start with understanding: showing the reader that you understand their reality intimately. After all, if you don’t really know their situation, then how would you know how to improve it?

Then show the reader why they can trust that you know what you’re talking about: appeal to their common sense (what you’re saying should make sense), demonstrate social proof (how many other people have already taken the action you want them to take?), demonstrate your expertise (your education and experience in the subject matter), and apply risk-reversal whenever possible (with guarantees and warranties).

This isn’t the sixth step, because you don’t do it all at once. Rather, you build a bit of credibility here and a bit more there, all the way through your messaging, so that by the end they believe you.

The 6 + 1 model succeeds where AIDA fails because it forces you to establish yourself as a source of authority in the reader’s eyes. While doing this through AIDA certainly is possible, the 6 + 1 formula impels you to account for the different responses that readers will have as they digest your copy. For a new copywriter, or a copywriter who is not achieving the amount of conversions that they think they should, these extra steps will be invaluable.


Footnotes Link

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Danny Iny is an author, strategist, serial entrepreneur, and proud co-founder of Firepole Marketing, the program that teaches expert marketing for non-marketers. Get his free video course on how to get more money out of your business, website or blog, or follow him on Twitter @DannyIny.

  1. 1

    I haven’t even heard of AIDA before.

    At least I won’t have to unlearn it to understand this article.


    • 2

      I think you might have used this article on me, the reader:

      1. You are writing for smashingmag, which establishes you as someone who knows your stuff enough to be approved by the editors of SM
      2. You grab my attention by telling me that the old way, AIDA, is lacking an important aspect.
      3. You make me WANT to learn what you think AIDA lacks
      4-6 … so I read the rest of the article.

      +1 it’s on SM.

      • 3

        Danny @ Firepole Marketing

        October 11, 2011 9:57 am

        And yes, that’s what I was aiming to do. See, this model works! ;D

    • 4

      Danny @ Firepole Marketing

      October 11, 2011 9:57 am

      I think that’s a good thing, Mary. It’s a very commonly used acronym, but I really don’t see a lot of value in it, unless you already know exactly what you’re doing (in which case you don’t really need it anyway). :)

  2. 5

    I had only heard about AIDA from watching the Alec Baldwin speech in Glengarry Glen Ross. He uses two acronyms for his sales people:

    ABC = Always Be Closing

    AIDA = Attention, Interest, Desire, Action

    Which makes sense as salesmen and copywriters tend to have the same goal… get the action :)

    I like how you pulled this together. A lot of people don’t think of the credibility piece (or don’t care).

    • 6

      Danny @ Firepole Marketing

      October 11, 2011 11:50 am

      You’re right, Charles, a lot of people don’t think about the credibility piece, or they just don’t care – but it’s a crucial piece, and written copy can’t do its job without it!

  3. 7

    Bruno Belluomini

    October 11, 2011 11:28 am

    Nice article!

  4. 9

    Aaron Martone

    October 11, 2011 1:56 pm

    As much as the article is solid in its message, I’m overwhelmed (by the amount) and underwhelmed (by the excess) when it comes to all these acronyms. It seems people are more interested in making up one to be the next big thing than actually analyzing the process it proposes and checking for quality.

    Again, I’ve no beef with this message; personally, I never heard of AIDA either; everyone just wants to give something they do a name and hope it takes off. We should always be more concerned with the message than the umbrella terminology which encapsulates the content.

    • 10

      Danny @ Firepole Marketing

      October 11, 2011 1:57 pm

      I completely agree with you, Aaron. The problem is when people start using a catchy acronym as a teaching tool, except that the acronym leaves important things out.

  5. 11

    Danny @ Firepole Marketing

    October 11, 2011 7:12 pm

    I’m not sure how this is relevant, Randy… :P

  6. 12

    I found your addition to the AIDA principle very well executed, although I believe sometimes you need to grab attention _before_ creating context, for example in mass-media-situations. But otherwise this can be extended to a lot of fields where AIDA began to fail.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • 13

      Danny @ Firepole Marketing

      October 12, 2011 5:04 am

      Thank you, Thomas, I’m glad you liked it. I think it’s better to say that sometimes you have to grab attention and create context at the same time – if you really just do attention first (and alone), then people look, but don’t stay. :)

  7. 14

    Some people use BOSCH formula rather than AIDA. Moreover I’d say that the context is an obvious component – you always forge a message to certain marketing channel and it connects with A – this context point is supposed to get you attention. Anyways – where’s the case study, data or any other proof that extra “gap” step is actually working and worth our time?

    • 15

      Danny @ Firepole Marketing

      October 12, 2011 5:07 am

      That’s a great question, Kiwus. This is borne out by examining successful campaigns and copy, but there is no study comparing results (to my knowledge). I’d love to see those numbers, though!

  8. 16

    I strongly desagree. First of all AIDA has nothing to do with copywriting, it was a teoric marketing formula used to show the mechanism of TV advertising -at start- and of marketing in general later.
    Second, you can’t use a spam as a valuable example of attention grabbing marketing. Come on!
    Third, if you get lost in all the fuss of creating context, stakeholder’s attention is captured by someone else. Non talking about hours nor minutes, just few seconds.
    Got attention? Go close. Or stakeholder’s attention is captured by someone else. Again, in seconds.
    If AIDA is the undisputed advertising model since late 1800 there is a reason.

    • 17

      Danny @ Firepole Marketing

      October 12, 2011 5:10 am

      Hey Michela, thanks for weighing in.

      I appreciate your perspective, but I have to disagree. All of these steps can be executed in seconds, but if they’re missed, jumping to the close is ineffective.

      And AIDA is hardly undisputed…. ;)

  9. 18

    Wendelien Vos

    October 12, 2011 2:46 am

    Dear Danny,

    luckaly I found your blog! as a dutch copywriter I can identify myself totally with your ideas. AIDA didn’t function for me for some time, and I was wondering why, and feeling a bit foolish because I thought I was the only one on the whole planet ;( .

    I also use the gap and the context, but the order in which I structure this content-parts is different in every medium. There’s no one-solution, I think.

    But mostly I use this sequence (for exemple on a companywebsite, where the context is allready known):
    1. starting with the painpoint (problem),
    2. stating the ideal siutation (describing a situation the prospect is dreaming of) (desire)
    3. what is the reason you are in a non-perfect situation?
    4. what can you do about it? (solution)
    5. why should you work with company x? (because they specialized in this solution, and helped so many people before, etc.)
    6. call-to-action

    (Obviously the gap is between 1 and 2.)
    I think there is a lot of credibility in this scheme too.

    What is your opinion on this whay of ordering the information?
    Wendelien Vos, The Netherlands

    • 19

      Danny @ Firepole Marketing

      October 12, 2011 5:12 am

      Hi Wendelien, thank you for your comment. Yes, when you’re writing for a company with an established brand – particularly copy for their own website – you don’t need to establish context, because the context is already there; people are visiting their site to search for information (or whatever – you just have to know the audience). I think the process you described is a bit long, but in principle it works. It really depends on how much text the process is spread across. And you’re right – it does well to create credibility, which is excellent. :)

  10. 20

    Daniel Codrea

    October 12, 2011 3:25 am

    The article proves that you definitely know how to grab attention to what you want to “sell”, in this case explain.
    But, there is always a BUT, I agree with Michela, that spam is a totally irrelevant example in this case.
    AIDA has it’s strength in it’s concise form. It is meant for concise things, thus it’s excellence in creating commercials. Short and concise. No space for context. No need for one, if the interest creates a reasonable amount of desire.
    Your solution, on the other hand, is excellent for elaborating presentations and descriptive environments for … for anything actually. What you teach us here is a great tool of writing.
    I don’t disagree with you, but as it was pointed out by others as-well, AIDA has it’s great role where it is needed, and it is not to be used where there are better approaches. :)

    • 21

      Danny @ Firepole Marketing

      October 12, 2011 5:14 am

      Hey Daniel, thanks for weighing in. And okay, fair enough. :)

      Just to clarify, though, I’m not suggesting that the process has to be long and drawn out – just that it needs to be addressed in some way for the copy to be effective. It can be super-quick, and sometimes delivered by the medium itself – that’s okay.

      And no, of course a spam message isn’t the be-all and end-all example, but it’s much easier to pick apart something that is obviously not well done. ;)

  11. 22

    Mandy Barrington

    October 12, 2011 7:48 am

    Thanks for sharing this; as a marketing copywriter myself, I can say that it’s easy to get lost in the world of marketing-speak. I think the best point of all here was the context—in today’s advertising-saturated world, it feels like companies are too out of touch with their customers to understand what they really want or need. Reaching out to your audience and saying “I’ve been there, I understand what you need and I’ve got a solution to share with you” has a genuineness that would certainly stand out above the rest. As others said, great work putting your formula to practice in the article!

    • 23

      Danny @ Firepole Marketing

      October 13, 2011 3:18 am

      Thanks, Mandy, I really appreciate the kind words. Yes, definitely – context is the key, and honestly, if you do context well, the rest gets a lot easier. :)

  12. 24

    So Danny, given the 6+1 method for copy writing, how would you rewrite the spam message you received? Just curious :)

    • 25

      Danny @ Firepole Marketing

      October 12, 2011 4:30 pm

      How about something like “Coming up short between pay-days? We’re an independent research firm, and have a free report for you that can help! Respond YES if interested, NO–to–STOP”

      I didn’t count the characters or anything, and this is just off the top of my head, but I think it’s a lot closer to getting some action, because of the insertion of context. What do you think?

  13. 26

    Ok I’m glad I’m not the only one who didn’t know what AIDA was :)

    I think Step 3 has to be one of the most important things to remember when going into a copywriting assignment. There is such an influx of information and with a market saturated with “news” every second, people have learned to scan. If you don’t make that easy, you may lose them.

    Do you think that AIDA is outdated or there just needs to be more to it?

    Can you recommend any reading materials on the matter you do think are great as learning tools? I’m only about a quarter of the way in, but I’m currently reading “Content Rules” by Ann Hadley (from ClickZ). I have no affiliation with them but the way they explain things is very thorough and a great read for understanding how to create your material.


    • 27

      Danny @ Firepole Marketing

      October 12, 2011 4:32 pm

      Hi Kadee, thanks for your comment. No, I don’t think AIDA is out-dated, just incomplete.

      Content Rules is a great book – I actually spoke with CC Chapman (Ann Handley’s co-author) recently, and he had some really good ideas to share.

      A good book to look at is Maria Veloso’s book – I don’t remember the title. And of course, there’s the classic Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz – some things never go out of style! ;)

  14. 28

    So how would the text message example read in your 6 + 1 model?

    • 29

      Danny @ Firepole Marketing

      October 13, 2011 3:18 am

      Hi Jorix, see my response to Emily’s comment above, where I wrote:

      How about something like “Coming up short between pay-days? We’re an independent research firm, and have a free report for you that can help! Respond YES if interested, NO–to–STOP”

      I didn’t count the characters or anything, and this is just off the top of my head, but I think it’s a lot closer to getting some action, because of the insertion of context. What do you think?

  15. 30

    As delicious as that can of spam looks, i’d totally love to see some example websites that you think have nailed the 6+1 formula, and perhaps not a 37 sigs or you know popular site that already has ‘stacks of cred’: )

    I’m really curious as to how we can apply this formula to our own site without the Alec Baldwin sales brutality…as cool as that scene is!!

    We’re still in BETA and soon looking to do a re-haul so any tad of guidance would be totally awesome (and also thanks for the top article, much appreciated! : )

    • 31

      Danny @ Firepole Marketing

      October 13, 2011 3:20 am

      Hey Adam, sure, a site that does it really well is Derek Halpern’s SocialTriggers (and I like to think that we do it pretty well at Firepole Marketing, too!). I’d be happy to give you some specific pointers for your site – shoot me an email to danny (at) firepolemarketing (dot) com with your URL, and I’ll take a look. :)

      • 32

        Thanks Danny, really appreciate it & just sent you a quick email: ) will check out Derek’s site now, cheers!

  16. 33

    Spot On Danny!
    I am not a writer but thank you for sharing this article, I now know what to look for on an article :)

    Thank you!

  17. 35

    I like seeing the overlaps in strategies for copywriting and critical writing. In a critical essay format, credibility and context are huge. Establishing credibility oftentimes challenges the writer more than staking the the claim.
    I’m excited to give the 6 + 1 method a try in future endeavours!

    Sarah Bauer

    • 36

      Danny @ Firepole Marketing

      October 13, 2011 9:06 am

      Hey Sarah, you’re right, here’s a very close overlap with critical writing. I’d love to hear about your experiences with the 6+1 method – please drop me a line and let me know how it goes! :)

    • 37

      ndecooomtstisated October 9, 2011 Thanks, Janae! It definitely scared me … I’m very thankful that I’m OK! And the whoopie pie recipe will be up tomorrow!

  18. 38

    The salesman’s technique when demonstrating and selling a product is AIDDA.

    This is also important:
    Obviously it is never going to be easy to sell to anyone that is satisfied with the product or lifestyle he/she enjoys. You need to challenge their beliefs and present more appealing alternatives. This strategy applies to advertising/marketing and point of sale confrontations.

    Bournemouth UK

  19. 39

    Speaking of credibility, Danny: your website looks scam-tastic. I loved this article, though.

    Sincere thanks!

    • 40

      But seriously.
      I appreciated the article, and I’m confused now because I felt like gunning down my monitor the moment your site loaded. I was immediately distracted by the noise and that star on the nav bar that I thought mean I was on that page.. Really, I suggest an entirely new approach.

      I think the importance of credibility these days is not tooting your own horn. If you provide examples, it needs to be clear, clean and understated. I even want to see it should read quietly. That’s what I’m attracted to, anyway. Let others speak loudly for you, if they are going to.

      Sorry, it was just a bit shocking.

  20. 42

    Hi there Danny, i am 20 and i am a graphic design student. Your article has really helped me through my few assignments. I appreciate your efforts for executing your research in strong content. However, even if it is just about copy writing I still learn the basic strategies, which i can apply on my design. Pardon me for my not so good use of English and thanks.

  21. 43

    Please, and I say this as a copywriter and a CD with over a decade of experience, if you need a four letter model to write a message, please consider another line of work.

    Let’s remember that the purpose of AIDA is to break down the MARKETING FUNNEL. Not write copy. The marketing funnel is the process of turning part of the audience into loyal, envangelistic consumers. In reality this means that a marketeer splits up the budget to be used at each stage of reeling in a potential customer. A/I/D/A

    My agency has Hilton as a client. But just the loyalty program. Yes there is a world-wide ECD just overseeing Hilton’s loyalty program. Scary huh?

    Sure, if you have just one shot at the customer – such as when a street vendor is pitching a product – you have to do it all at once. But in the world of well-managed brands you often tend to move more gracefully. Why? Because of the noise. To break through you can only afford to say one thing at the time. So forget AIDA, ask yourself what is the single-minded propostion? With a gun at your head, what would you say is the essence of your message?

    Clearly, this comment failed to live up to that.

    • 44

      cynthia hartwig

      November 3, 2011 6:48 pm

      I’m with you, Tom, as both a copywriter and a CD, but even more so with your understanding that you have less than 3 seconds to say one, single-minded thing to any reader or listener. The problem I see with this formulaic approach is that it convinces writers that there is a one recipe to creativity. There isn’t.

      I would also challenge Danny at Firepole Marketing to teach by example: find a great example of 6 +1 or AIDA (which I like better because it’s shorter and less quasi-science-sounding) and show that. It’s easy to pick out crappy marketing because the world is drowning in it. I like to teach by emulation. Write about this subject again with a strong example and people can make their own conclusions as to why it works.

      There’s a magic to good writing that defies logic, I think. It’s harder than rocket science and no equation works 100% of the time.

  22. 45

    These articles are why Smashing is my first daily read.

  23. 46

    Matthew Bostock

    October 25, 2011 1:21 am

    Truly fascinating article.
    A lot of valid, and substantial, points.

    I think credibility is one of the most important aspects to focus on, especially if you are a startup for example. Post as often as possible, with content that’s not only directly related to your service/solution but also the sphere you are working in. This will increase credibility greatly, the more you do the more you’ll get back.

    Thanks Danny.

  24. 47

    Excellent article. I learned AIDA as a young copywriter and quickly questioned its value. Once in a position to deviate and test this formula, I found better results with what you call the 6+1 (my description is somewhat simpler): Benefit, feature, testimonial. Same model, different name. We always have to be on our toes and sensitive to how people notice, recognize and read information; how they interpret ideas in (and out of) context; and what motivates them to act. Again, thanks for a timely reminder that the world evolves and we all need to keep pace.

  25. 48

    This is a helpful article, but I have a question. How do you use all the steps in your copy writing and still keep the content to a minimum. How can you combine all these steps into the 15 seconds you talk about?

  26. 49

    Ok, now to use as example that message is ok, but you have to know or if you to notice, that messages like this one, you got, is only created for you to reply back. In that case the message would be count as a service order and from that moment you should start get messages about some shit, and you have to pay for those messages a big money, it’s cheating anyway. I’m not 100% sure if that message you got, apply for that, but it is very likely it does, at least in a UK. So it’s kinda a bad practice to use it. Anyway the article is nice, i always like the content this website gives to us, and this is one of the good stuff, just want to let people know what those messages mots likely aim for..

  27. 50

    Knock the spam if you like, but it worked. The voicemail was full, presumably with responses. Where the spammer fell down was in handling the response process.


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