I just read Reid’s post on mail-in rebates, and I couldn’t agree more. They are stupid. I have been offered that same contact lens rebate for two years in a row and never bothered to fill it out. I think he’s right about the motive — the companies are hoping you won’t go through the inconvenience of jumping through all the hoops they set up. According to Wikipedia, it offers the company some other advantages such as earning interest on the additional money until the rebate is processed.
As for how much money they spend on processing? Probably not much. Many of those work-from-home ads you see online, with vague promises of “being your own boss” and pictures of big houses and wads of cash are for gigs processing rebate requests. My guess is they don’t pay very well.
I figured that since so many companies think I’m an idiot, it’s time to dedicate an entire category of my blog to Idiot Marketing.
From today’s mailbox…
As you can see, while the item was addressed to “Valued California Resident,” (spam spam spam!) it was marked as “official business” (possibly important) so I decided to open it.
As soon as I opened it, I knew it was junk. A fake check. “This is not a check” is a term that in idiot marketer language means “Ha! Idiot! We got you to look at our offer!”
The best part about this fake check was how much trouble they went through to make it look like a real check. They implemented security features including microprinting.
Thanks a lot, unnamed big company of which I am already a customer, (they could have addressed me by name!), you just called me an idiot.
Today I found two pieces of idiot marketing in my mailbox, both from my credit card company. One is a check that when cashed would enroll me in some fraud protection thing, which is stupid since I shouldn’t be liable for fraudulent charges anyway.
The other is an offer for an “upgrade” (and yes, even they used quotes) to a different card. Actually, it isn’t a physically different card… I would be sent a sticker, that I, a grown adult, could proudly place on my existing card to “transform” it. Two things really bothered me about this offer:
- The offer came in an important-looking piece of paper that is its own envelope, like the kind you get from your bank, where you have to tear off the perforated edges. This meant that I had to invest time into investigating its junkiness.
- If the “upgrade” were free, maybe I’d take it. But it isn’t — a $79 annual fee is mentioned on the back of the offer, about 1/3 of the way through the fine print terms that I’m not really expected to read. On the front, this is the only indication that there may be some sort of fee listed on the back that I should look for: “Just sign below and return this form (postage-paid reply envelope enclosed) to accept your [service] status, as described in the details on the other side of this form.”
Here’s the other side of the form. Can you spot the price? It’s in bold so this shouldn’t be hard:
In an effort to reduce my incoming junk mail, I called the card company. It was funny because I didn’t know of a better term to use, so I asked the representative to take me off the “junk mail” list. Fortunately, she knew what I meant, and said that my request was processed. She then told me that I may continue to receive junk mail for up to 90 days. That’s three months. You’d think modern technology would be able to stop the spam before the end of June.
I just cancelled my newspaper subscription. I’m sure you have two questions:
1. Wysz reads the newspaper?
2. What does this have to do with that controversial headline?
The headline is arguably an example of a sometimes effective, but still undesirable form of marketing, which I call idiot marketing. Idiot marketing is marketing any strategy involving simple tricks covered in Psychology 101 that are designed to get distracted, fatigued, or stupid people to do something. You can find plenty of examples of this on late-night “but wait, there’s more!” infomercials.
I don’t like to buy something when I feel like it’s being marketed towards idiots. because then I’d feel like an idiot.
- Sending me a check that when cashed, enrolls me in a service I don’t want or need.
- Sending me a fake credit card, or otherwise marking an envelope as “urgent,” “open immediately,” or “postmaster: please deliver by…”
Charities unfortunately often use idiot marketing as well. This is really a shame, because for people who consider themselves to be non-idiots, it can actually have the opposite effect. Here’s how they use idiot marketing:
- Trying to make me feel guilty. I once got a “personal” (photocopied signature!) letter from a genuine Important Person with language making it sound like he was personally upset that I hadn’t yet made a second donation to his charity. And then there’s the guy who sits at the entrance of my local grocery store with the accusatory “Don’t you care about our veterans?” sign.
- Bringing me into a commitment or relationship I don’t want. Can’t I just give them the money, and then maybe they ask for another donation in a year? Don’t make me a “member” or “partner” in your organization unless I opt into that.
- Coming to my door. There, they are just going to use traveling salesperson techniques and make me feel like a jerk if I refuse or ask for a URL. The worst is sending a kid to my door, claiming that if I sign up for a newspaper subscription, he will get money for college. and there’s “no obligation” and “the check won’t even be cashed” and “you don’t even have to cancel; it is cancelled automatically.” Because that simply isn’t true. My check was cashed, and I had to call to get the money back, after speaking to a supervisor. And don’t tell me I’m a jerk for ordering a newspaper with no intent of keeping it. The way they sell it, they expect and even encourage people to do this. The only people who get newspapers are those too lazy to cancel, and old people who don’t like computers. Idiot marketing gets poor results. And if they want to help those kids go to college, there are plenty of other options.
So what do I want charities to do? Just give me the URL, let me donate, and then leave me alone.
They don’t have to make everyone participate this way, but I, like many people, prefer to donate online. So don’t make me donate, sign up, or otherwise commit on the street. That way, I can easily confirm the legitimacy of the organization (not that I don’t trust people…), and I don’t have to deal with a paper receipt. I’m also willing to donate more money, and have my employer match it, if I can easily do this online. And, if I want to become more involved and not just do a drive-by donation, I can find more information right there, without being forced into it.
Possibly worth another blog entry: I don’t like tips.