Sunday 7 November 2010

If it's free, it's worth nothing

Last week I received a mailshot that had travelled through time. I know this because the style and premise were so archaic, so ill-suited to the 21st century, they could not possibly have originated in the last 25 years.

The envelope was plain white with a red postage logo hinting at a bulk mailing. But nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I opened it. This wasn't contemporary direct mail, it was a marketing Sutton Hoo.

The Mouth and Foot Painting Artists mailingInside was a letter, an order form and eight Christmas cards with envelopes. Each card had a different hand-painted design.

"Dear Sir/Madam", read the letter. "Christmas is drawing near and I write on behalf of my fellow artists to introduce our work - all created with the brush held in the mouth or feet".

It went on to say "Only by approaching you in this way can we adequately describe the background of these cards."

"Our aim is to support ourselves through the sale of our cards."

"The price for the set is £6.95... You are of course under no obligation to buy or return the set".

And that's where the letter is wrong. Those cards don't have a value of £6.95. They have a value of nothing. Sod all. I've been sent them without asking for them. If I don't want them, I can keep them anyway. Therefore they have no value.

Which is how I knew this strange little package had travelled through time. I reckon it would have worked fifty years ago. But not today.

Buying these cards supports talented artists. But you can't really use the cards, not now. Not here in 2010. What if your friends think you didn't pay for them? Of course you wouldn't do a thing like that, but... And what about the supposed £6.95 value? What's a £6.95 pack of cards worth when one in ten packs is wasted because the recipient doesn't want them? What if it's nine out of ten packs thrown away (or used without payment)? If you receive one, are you helping support the artists or are you getting one of those free cards that were too good for the sender to throw away?

Yes, I know, I know, there are undoubtedly economic reasons for the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists partnership doing things this way instead of just sending an order form or asking for unwanted cards to be returned. But, as I've said before, I neither want unnecessary gifts nor charitable blackmail. And, as the 21st century progresses, I'd like to think those marketing techniques will go the way of the dinosaurs.

I wish those artists every success. But I wish they'd drag their marketing out of the 1950s.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

When did opt-out become the new opt-in?

Robin Hood, eh? When he wasn’t riding through the glen – or wooing Maid Marian – he was taking from the rich to give to the poor. What a nice chap.

Except… well… not if you’re one of the rich.

Now, in defence of Robin Hood, he (a) may not have existed and (b) didn’t necessarily rob everyone who had money. “But loke ye do no husbonde harme, that tilleth with his ploughe. No more ye shall no gode yeman that walketh by gren-wode shawe; ne no knyght ne no squyer that wol be a gode felawe.” At least, that's what the kids sang in 1450.

However, I can’t help feel there’s a similarity between Mr Hood and today’s trend for opt-out charitable donations.

Head for a restaurant and you may find an extra £1 added to the bill to help the homeless. Oh yes, you can ask for it to be removed, but it’s already there and you need to opt-out. (And what sort of cad would do that?)

It’s the same when you head to a De Vere hotel. They’re adding £1 to your bill and giving it to the Variety Club.

When did this become an acceptable form of promotion? If a restaurant added a bottle of wine to the bill – “it’s okay, we’ll take it off if you insist” – we’d be livid. If hotels charged us for the movie channel – “tell us when you check-out if you didn’t watch it” – we’d probably never return. If every Big Issue seller picked our pocket for £1.70 when we walked past – but published a disclaimer on their ID badge – we wouldn’t be particularly happy.

It’s also worth noting that the establishments themselves don’t mention any donation they’re making. Sure, they’re promoting the schemes and they’re collecting the money, but there’s little or no expenditure. To quote StreetSmart, “The scheme is a very cost efficient way for restaurants to fulfil their social and community responsibility.”

So here’s an idea. First, give me a choice. You’ve already put a leaflet in my hotel room, why not let me put it ‘yes’ side up if I want to make a donation? Better still, why not offer to match my donation? If you can’t afford to do that, perhaps you could let me opt-out of having my towels changed in return for a matched donation? Maybe I could choose a smaller portion at the restaurant and the restaurateur could give some of their money, too?

Surely charities should follow the lead of marketers, who are encouraged to only contact customers that have opted-in to receive communications. This isn’t just backed-up by the law, it’s backed-up by common sense. No-one wants to be hassled into doing something – even if it’s a good thing they end up doing.