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The Sour Note

Legend:   An abandoned wife receives a diet aid ad in the mail, examines the "personalized" Post-It note affixed to it, concludes the ad must have come from the woman her husband has taken up with, and kills the homewrecker.

LEGEND

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1995]

Apparently there was this fella who left his wife of many years for a foxy little thing half his age. The wife tried to get on with her life as gracefully as possible, but this wasn't easy for her husband was now living with his girlfriend and the two of them were reputed to be painting the town red. In other words, seemed everywhere she turned she was getting her nose rubbed in it. One day she received one of these diet advertisements with the cutesy "Linda, Try this — it works! J." note stuck to it.

Unfortunately for all concerned, the girlfriend's initial was "J" and in the wife's mind there could be no doubt that her husband's bouncy ball of fluff was the sender. Bad enough to lose her husband to 36-24-36, but to have the smirking little bitch then send her something like this disguised as "friendly advice"?!?!

Wifey marches over to the love nest. When ball of fluff answers the door, she shoots twice, and there's one less cheerleader in the world.
 

Origins:   This story about an ad campaign gone murderously awry has been kicking about since the late 1980s. While in many of the tellings, the jilted older wife fatally shoots the far younger gal the philandering husband is now living with under the mistaken belief the floozy had sent the "Try this — it works!" note, we've encountered tellings where the murdered woman was said to be the cheating husband's new wife and others where the victim was strangled instead of shot. The nature of the product being advertised varied too: while the misunderstood ad pitch was sometimes for a weight-loss system or diet aid, it was sometimes for anti-aging products.

One reader reported hearing the following unusual completion of the legend:
[Collected via e-mail, 2002]

I heard almost the exact same tale, but the version I heard is that, after the wife kills the girlfriend, she goes home to find a friend just leaving her doorstop. The friend asks her if she had received the diet plan that the friend had mailed her. The friend had tried it, and it really worked and she thought the wife would like to try it. The wife realizes what she had done and collapses.
Another of our readers heard the same legend, but minus the "Try this — it works!" advertisement:
[Collected via e-mail, 2006]

I heard a similar tale several years ago as well. Only in this story, the husband's new girlfriend works at an eatery in the mall. The former wife doesn't realize this and walks up to order a Coke. The girlfriend takes her money with a smirk and hands her the drink. The wife walks away fuming at having been served by THAT WOMAN! When she takes a drink of the Coke, she realizes that she was given a DIET COKE instead. She fumes because she knows that this is the girlfriend's way of saying she's fat and can use diet soda. So then the story gets back on track, she goes to their new house, shoots twice and there's one less cheerleader in the world.
While the murdered bimbo story is an urban legend as opposed to a report of something that actually happened, the direct mail advertising method on which it is based is indeed real.

A
number of companies doing business through the mails have at various times used the "personalized Post-It note stuck to what appears to be a page torn from a respected publication" ploy. This form of marketing works on the assumption that the recipient (aka, sucker) will mistake a tearsheet touting a miracle product for an impartial article from a reputable magazine or newspaper, and will give it additional credence because it appears to come from a friend who is attempting to pass along helpful information. The standard accompanying note takes the form of a "[insert first name], Try this — it works!" entreaty signed with a common initial. The envelope it arrives in appears to have been addressed by hand or to have been individually typed on a rickety old typewriter, bears a real stamp in the upper right-hand corner (no postage meter mark, in other words), and does not look like the impersonal piece of direct mail advertising it is. Instead, it closely resembles what it's supposed to mimic: something a friend would tear out and mail to you.

Some examples of companies' using this form of direct mail advertising include the following:
  • In 1991, tearsheets for Gero Vita GH 3 Famous Romanian Anti-Aging Formula emblazoned with "John, try it. This works! R." popped up in folks' mail. In 1993 the same product was being marketed the same way, with only the sticky modified to read "Eugene. Try it. It's only 1/2 price!"
  • An outfit known as Georgetown Publishing, who was pushing $297 books entitled "American Speaker" and "Business Finance Advisor," used this method in 1995. The FTC took them to task for it, and in 1996 they reached a settlement under which the respondents were prohibited from misrepresenting an advertisement as an independent review or article, or failing to identify it as a paid advertisement. In addition, the order prohibited the respondents from misrepresenting their products as having been independently reviewed or evaluated. (That FTC settlement hasn't completely stopped this form of marketing, however. In 1999 "Try this — it works!" Post-Its appeared on tearsheets mailed to Canadians targeted as potential buyers of "The Organised Executive," a monthly newsletter and Q&A service costing $197 a year.)
  • In 1997, Health Laboratories of North America, a firm marketing "Berry Trim Plus" diet pills, also came up with such a mailing but managed to bring it in under the FTC's radar by making their tearsheet look like a newspaper ad rather than an independent review, the feature that had been the downfall of Georgetown Publishing. Still, with a sticky note containing the usual "Try this — it works!" pitch, the clipping looked like it had been sent by an acquaintance, and this had been one of the deceptive advertising practices which the FTC had charged Georgetown with employing. Berry Trim has had its knuckles rapped by the Better Business Bureau over this practice, but that hasn't stopped the diet pill manufacturer from using it. As of 2000, Berry Trim was also sending the online equivalent of these ads in the form of spam e-mail messages.
In other words, though this form of advertising is at least borderline illegal at the moment, don't kid yourself that we've seen the end of such mailings.

The reaction of those who receive such solicitations can well be imagined. But for those experiencing difficulty quite picturing it, we offer a 1996 letter from one of Ann Lander's readers:
Dear Ann:

I had to write after reading the letter from "Roseville, Calif." Her sister had just found a note taped to her windshield telling her she was overweight and should do something about it.

I recently had a similar experience. I received an advertisement for a weight-loss program clipped from a newspaper. It came in the mail. On it was written, "Mary, try it. It works." There was no signature or return address.

I have been to five doctors in six years. The last one figured out why I am struggling so hard to lose weight. It's my metabolism.

I am slowly getting the unwanted pounds off and don't need any advice from anonymous "do-gooders."

For anyone who feels the need to "help" an overweight person, keep in mind that they are well aware of the problem. Reminding them of it just hurts.

        — Aiming For A Size 10 In New York
 

Dear New York:

Losing weight is the ultimate do-it-yourself project.

Congratulations and good luck to you, dear.
It is this aspect of this form of deceptive advertising that is most objectionable. Those on the receiving end of such notes are all too often left feeling injured by a "friend's" heartlessly helpful gesture. Not all of us have the high-powered jobs we lust after, or a full head of hair, or a perfect size 8 figure. Advertising of this ilk preys upon damaged self image, and in the process damages it even further.

Barbara "damage uncontrolled" Mikkelson

Last updated:   1 June 2014

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Sources:

    Landers, Ann.   "Ann Landers."
    9 August 1996   [syndicated column].

    Smith, Jennifer.   "Hey, Fatso."
    L.A. Weekly.   17 September 1999.

    Stroup, Sheila.   "E-Nough Already with the E-Mail!"
    The Times-Picayune.   17 February 2000   (p. B1).

    Consumer Reports.   "Selling It: A Pen Pal Reappears."
    November 1995   (p. 747).

    The Economist.   "Fat Chance."
    23 August 1997   (Business; p. 48).