Annoying marketing from the US federal government

First, I have to say that I’m generally a fan of and am fascinated by the USPS (and other postal services around the world). The fact that I can write on a piece of paper, drop it in a box, and have full confidence that it will be delivered to the right place is kind of amazing.

That all being said, it makes me sad that these screenshots are from the website of an official agency of the United States federal government:

Lowbrow marketing page with words like 'exclusive coupons' and very large buttons for opting in, with only a small 'Skip this step' link that allows the user to continue to the confirmation page for a change of address.Lowbrow marketing page with a timer indicating that the customer only has a few minutes to redeem an offer to have catalogs sent to their address or to receive coupons.

I understand that the postal service may not like what it’s doing, and is desperate for revenue. So here’s a challenge: How would you change the system so that the postal service had an incentive to reduce junk mail?

And a question for anyone outside of the US: Do you get junk/unsolicited/spam mail in your country? How many pieces do you receive per day or week? Is there a way to opt out of it?

Unsubscribe FAIL

I recently started getting a lot of emails from Neiman Marcus, so I clicked on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of one of them. The link goes to a page-long form, which ends with this:

You are currently subscribed to the email lists below. If you would prefer to not receive the following emails, please uncheck the appropriate box(es) and click 'Unsubscribe'

Quick! What am I supposed to do? I saw a checkbox (preselected) next to and an unsubscribe button, so I clicked the button. I then saw this message:

We’re sorry to see you go. You will no longer receive e-mails from and Neiman Marcus Stores.

Ok, cool. I’ll no longer receive emails from Guess what happened.

Today when I got even more email from them, I took a closer look at the form. In order to unsubscribe, I’m supposed to uncheck the box next to the thing I want to unsubscribe from, and then click the button that says “Unsubscribe”?

That’s like saying, “If you’d like me to stop punching you in the face, say ‘No.’ Would you like me to stop punching you?” And then when you say “Yes,” I’ll say, “Okay, I’ll stop.” And then punch you.

Annoying marketing to create annoying marketers

The other day I noticed a sign while waiting at a traffic light. It claimed that I could earn “CEO-level” income working at home and had an 800 number (for those of you outside the U.S., these are toll-free numbers typically used by businesses) to call, in this case, (800) 790-8061. I figured that like most “Work at home! Be your own boss! Unlimited potential! Look at me holding wads of cash in front of a yacht! Read this lengthy page of testimonials that says absolutely nothing about the actual job you’ll be doing!”-type ads, it would be a pyramid scheme. That’s exactly what it what it was. If you don’t want to read about this particular version of a scam that’s been done a zillion times, you can stop here; it’s nothing new. If you’d like a taste of what it’s like to “fall” for one, feel free to continue.

Wasting the time of scammers is a small hobby of mine. I used Skype a bit in college to make calls when I didn’t have good cell service in my apartment, and after that situation improved I found myself with about $10 of credit. I burned it on cheap international calls to spammers who left their phone numbers in lottery spam emails. “Dr. Michael Scott” had ridiculous phone numbers like +5 555 555 555 5555 x555, extremely long randomly-generated email addresses, confirmation codes with the letter “q” repeated an incredible number of times, and odd demands like requesting a million dollar prize to be reduced to $999,999.99 “for tax reasons.”

Since then, I’ve wasted the time of exceptionally annoying marketers, especially if their businesses are deceptive or even illegal. I don’t have a landline, but when I did, I was generally nice and handled the standard telemarketer with a quick “Not interested. Put me on your do not call list” so neither of us had much wasted time. I’m not a jerk to everyone. But, when I’m repeatedly called on my cell phone (from callers spoofing their caller ids) about a fictitious expiring car warranty, it’s on. The last time one of them called I answered, went through the questions to the second person (it’s some sort of affiliate-based scheme, where one person refers you to the next with a unique code), and then put them on hold before continuing on with my day. They hung up after 12 minutes and haven’t called back. Pat, Nate, and Mike also had some fun with them, and according to Nelson, one of them was able to get the spammer to hold for over an hour.

And now, back to that sign. I decided to call the 800 number to see what it’s like to join one of these schemes. I’m particularly angered by them during a period of rising financial hardship, since they prey upon those who are desperate for cash. More on that later. When I called the number, I was greeted with a recording about making money with a proven system or whatnot that was several minutes long, which finally asked me to leave my name and number. I did.

The next day, someone from a local number called and began to “interview” me. She started off by saying something about starting the business with her husband in Scottsdale, Arizona. This of course is totally bogus, as she does not own the business and is just a victim of what she’s trying to trick me into buying. She then went into a schtick where she asked me very important interview questions like “How much do you want this?” and “How much would you like to earn?” and claimed that she’d hang up if I’m willing to settle for anything less than a million dollars a year. Of course, no matter how uninterested and incompetent I sounded, the conversation continued, for a full 14 minutes, without any stalling on my part. My favorite part was when she asked me if I knew the difference between direct sales and MLM. When I said, “I heard MLM is mostly scams,” she actually told me that the entire industry was made of legitimate businesses. Doesn’t she know that she’s supposed to earn my trust by claiming that 99% of them are scams, she’s been scammed by them before, and has finally found the one that actually works? It didn’t matter, though, because she claimed that what she was offering wasn’t MLM. Phew. The interview must have been going pretty well at that point, and she told me the next step: call into a conference call, listen to more information, and then call her back if I was interested. This point was kind of interesting, because I asked her if she could give me any more information about what would be required of me for the job. She said that she couldn’t, because all I’d need is some quick information from the call and then I could get started. “You’ll do what I do,” she said. “All you need to do is put people on the phone.” Ha! In a call less than 14 minutes long she had gone from “I started this business” and “This isn’t MLM” to “You’ll do what I do.” Well, this all sounds good to me. Conference call it is. Oh, and she confirmed the email address I had left in my earlier message. “That’s an interesting address,” she said. “I actually went there when I heard your message, because I wondered how someone could get a haircut online.”

But before we get to the call, what industry would I, an unemployed man with no money who had just fooled around with websites in school be entering? “Personal development,” is what she told me. I translated it for her: “Self-help.” That’s right, if there is any product that’s actually sold as a result of this, it’s tickets to motivational seminars or inspirational videos. Thrilling. I wonder if I could get a discount.

Getting to the last bit here… I called into the conference call, which she said would run 20 minutes, about 10 minutes into it. It sounded like it was actually live, but I didn’t want to break my character just yet and resisted un-muting myself and asking why I should fall for a pyramid scheme. I found out the company name, “Liberty League,” a “company built on integrity.” The scheme was called “Beyond Freedom,” and was told, “If you can place ads and call people back, and get them to be on these calls, I think you understand what you need to do.” Yes, I understand. But they wanted to be completely sure that I understood the exact structure of the program, and said, “Just place people on these calls,” that’s all I’d have to do. They then had, after a lengthy disclaimer, a series of live testimonials. Of course! Both of these calls sounded exactly like phone versions of one of these pages. I had to hang up before the call was over because I was helping someone convert a video, but just before I did they had opened it up to Q&A. One person asked if this system had been affected by the economy. “The worse the economy gets, the better we’re doing,” they said. Unfortunately, I’m afraid this was one of the most truthful statements I heard. I’m sure many people who fall for these types of programs are desperately seeking any source of income. And then on this same point, just before I hung up, someone said (and I hope I misheard), that he was considering buying the $495 kit. Four hundred and ninety-five dollars. I really hope that before he pulls out that credit card he considers that he’s offering to pay for the privilege of selling something. This is not how real jobs work. This is how scams work.

Slightly related: I started to wonder just how many levels this thing had. Did the person I talked to even put up that sign, or did she outsource it?

Online florist marketing

I just placed an order for some flowers online and a bunch of things bothered my about the experience:

The very first thing they asked me for was the recipient’s zip code. So why did they wait until the checkout screen to tell me the following information?

  • There’s a $15 “delivery fee,” even though I don’t even think they offered a local pickup option.
  • Sunday delivery is not available in that area.

After checkout, they had a link to some survey thing through a third party. It promised me something like $100 for my thoughts. Of course on the next page this $100 turned out to be credit toward magazine subscriptions, I’d have to pay a “processing fee,” and the survey looked like an SAT exam. Want to know what I would like for a survey? A single (large or expandable) text box on the checkout page that asks, “How was your experience?”

And then in my confirmation email, I saw this text:

*** NOTICE: This order qualifies for a
FREE SHIPPING REBATE: > Click to claim

“Free shipping rebate” was actually in red, but WordPress’s visual editor is crapping out as usual. Hey, I’m in the middle of complaining. 🙂

I knew what that link was going to be thanks to previous experiences with the merchant, but this was especially scummy. It was listed right below the order total, and made no indication that it was an ad. So what was it? Some paid membership service where you get rebates on shipping charges. And their signup was labeled with “One-Time Offer!” in huge text. Their only service is a one-time offer? How long does it last? The life of the business? The offer probably referred to the free trial, but still, that’s like a grocery store offering free shopping bags (with purchase) as a “one-time offer.”

How to get money from me every year

Hi, are you a charity or non-profit organization that I support? Would you like me to give you money every year? Here’s a great way to increase your chances of this actually happening: ask me for a donation once, and only once, per year.

A problem I have with many organizations is that they ask me for a donation multiple times in a single year. Since I (and I’m assuming most people) prefer to give on no more than an annual basis, asking multiple times just confuses me, and likely hurts the cause financially as a result. Schools are especially bad, since they like to refer to an “annual fund,” which really threw me off before I realized they had been over-begging. I’d like to hear about the annual fund annually.

Here’s the basic problem: I cannot remember the last time I gave. I can’t even remember where I park my car every day. So, when I receive a solicitation, I think, “Hmm, did I already give this year?” And then my memory flashes back to the last mailing, which was less than a year ago. And I think, “Yep, it feels like I just gave,” whether or not I actually did. The mailing then goes into the (virtual or physical) trash. This continues until a mailing happens to come along at a time when I happen to be feeling exceptionally charitable or bored, and actually check my official record of charitable giving: Google’s gift matching program. There, I can see if I’m actually due.

Here’s how I think it should be done: Send me a reminder about donations once per year. And, perhaps more importantly since it will take me a while to trust that you only nag me once a year, include a copy of my giving history with the donation form. That way I can immediately see that I’m due to give, and how much I gave last time. It’s simple, it will cut mailing costs, and I might even give more.

Oh, and just as a reminder, let me give online. Who do you think I am, my mom paying for groceries 15 years ago? I have no idea where my checkbook is most of the time. Most charities are actually pretty good about this now, but I didn’t want to waste the line about my mom at a grocery store.

24 hour protection*

Anyone else ever have this iPhone bug happen to them? It’s happened to me before. It looks like one of those puzzles with sliding tiles.

Listerine bottle with label reading 24 hour protection 2x a day. image is segmented.

The reason I took the picture was I thought this label was funny when I saw it in the store. It says “24 hour protection,” but that’s if you use it twice a day—each use lasts 12 hours. Is there any product that couldn’t be labeled as lasting “24 hours” under this system?

Update: Looks like I’m not the first to notice.

Gift cards and politicians

Recently, Nelson let me know about a piece of idiot marketing he received. It was a gift card, that if used, would enroll him in a fraud protection service for his credit card (and cost him $8 a month). I just received the same thing today. I only opened it because I’m expecting a cash-back check soon. Fortunately, if the company stays true to its word, this silliness should stop by the end of the month.

And I’m glad the most recent election is over, because my mailbox has been stuffed with a bunch political junk over the past few weeks. I’m not even registered with a party. If I did have to register for a party, I’d join the birthday party. Those are usually fun, except for the awkward singing part.