Guest Blogger, Herschell Gordon Lewis on Responsible List Usage

Hey, list companies … are you listening?

The ancient Nigeria Scam still breathes. That includes the Amsterdam Lottery, the babbling banker in Uzbekistan, and the dying dowager in Hong Kong, all of whom have millions for lucky me.

We, sophisticated direct marketers that we are, recognize those primitive appeals for what they are – wild random hopes aimed at anybody. They’re the email version of “I shot an arrow into the air, it fell to earth I know not where.”

But hold it. Here’s an “offer” whose subject line includes my first name, spelled correctly. Hey, that suggests involvement by a list company, because otherwise how could an untraceable source know my first name?

And what’s the offer? If I have a meal at Outback Steak House and tell them what I think of it, I’ll get $100 cash.

Yeah, right.

Wait, here’s another: “Eat out and save big.” And another: “Receive Free Coupons for Your Favorite Brands.” That last one is exclusive, because they’ll send those coupons only to “U.S. residents over 18 years of age.” Whee! I qualify.

All right, you get the idea. In each case I have to start by giving them my e-mail address (uh … they already have that, don’t they?).Well, all right, in the interest of research.

Hmm. Now they want more information: First name, last name, address, gender, date of birth, and whether I have Medicare. Well, of course I have Medicare. After all, I’m over 18 years of age. OK, here we go.

Now they’re getting personal. They want to know whether I suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee. And blah, blah, blah. Oh, and then: “By entering your email address and other information requested here, you agree to receive emails from trusted third parties containing promotions and other special offers.”

Same day: I’ve won “up to $1,000,000” in the PurePlay Lottery. Better “claim” that before they deal another hand. After all, they’re making it clear that it’s only “Play Money.” Seems like fun.

Yeah, right.

(Ah, here’s the buried kicker: “Play Money Chips may be purchased on a recurring basis. $24.99 per month package (a.k.a. ‘Player’s Club’ Subscription): $165,000 in Play Money chips awarded to subscriber’s account, on a daily basis at the amount of $5,500 Play Money Chips per day…” What a surprise!

You know the deals, because if you’re online at all they’ve been aimed at you, too: “Special offers” include buried mice-type requirements that I agree to buy or subscribe to whatever, usually some sort of continuity program charged to a credit card. That isn’t the point.

The point is that because these emails invariably include my first name and often my full name, they’re getting the name from a source other than random email addresses. That suggests a list company.

We can’t ask list companies to be policemen. But can’t we ask them to check with us before opening up the email floodgates by selling not just our online names but our given names to anybody and everybody?

Understand, please: We’re adults (over the age of 18) and are in an open marketplace. But getting emails whose offers use our actual names as personalization is a step beyond using a list as just a list.

And a proposition with a hidden “Gotcha!” isn’t parallel to others we get that address us by name, such as discounts on Viagra or the opportunity to become a nursing assistant. Those are open to a yes or no and are very much in keeping with the personalization a solid email offer should include.

Maybe I’m getting old and cranky. After all, it can happen to old folks over age 18. But offers using four-point type buried in a block of otherwise innocuous acceptance, to tell me that “In order to receive your gift you must: (1) Meet the eligibility requirements (2) complete the rewards bonus survey (3) complete a total of 5 Sponsor Offers as stated in the Gift Rules (4) not cancel your participation in more than a total of 2 Sponsor Offers within 30 days of any Sponsor Offer Sign-Up Date as outlined in the Gift Rules (the Cancellation Limit) and (5) follow the redemption instructions” are playing a different game.

OK. The prosecution rests. I’m willing to listen to rebuttals.

That is, I’m willing to listen … as long as listening doesn’t mean automatic enrollment in a hidden transaction.

Herschell Gordon Lewis

You can catch Herschell in person at DMA2011! He’ll be teaching his phenomenally successful Fast and Furious Creative Workshop on October 1-2, and his Back by Popular Demand Creative Masterclass on Monday, October 3. He’s a true marketing icon and legend and not to be missed! Register now and – if you use keycode JH609 – you can get $300 off!

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