Tuesday, February 17, 2009

E-Mail Marketing: Convenient or Creepy?

With the ability to track page views, clicks, purchases, etc., Internet marketing brings up a lot of privacy issues – and debates over convenience vs. creepiness. My personal opinion, as a cusp member of the dreaded Generation Y or Me or Millennial, or whatever, is that younger (and future) consumers are (will be) willing to overlook creepiness (ex: “Based on your interest in x, we suggest you check out y” promotional e-mails) for convenience.

Two characteristics make this creepy-but-convenient approach appealing for the younger consumer: We are lazy, and we have ADD. Shopping online via suggestions found in my Gmail, without having to physically go to the store OR virtually search a company’s Web site? Check. Random sale alerts that provide welcome distraction from boring work/phone calls/channel surfing? CHECK.

Another characteristic, however, is slightly at odds with some of the more invasive e-mail marketing (ex: Based on your interest in [insert slightly embarrassing product], we suggest you check out [list of decidedly embarrassing products]): We have very large, very fragile egos. Today I received a message with the subject line: “Amazon.com: What’s New in Romance.” Out of curiosity, I opened the e-mail. The intro copy read, “As someone who buys romance books from Amazon.com, you may be interested in this season’s newest releases…” Below that was a list that included titles such as Dream Warrior, What I did for Love and Kill for Me, accompanied by appalling cover art and fonts, the kinds that tend to be raised and metallic when found on drug store shelves.

What did I buy to deserve this e-mail? I was delighted to receive “The Best Books of 2008” – am I being punished for not clicking through? Or perhaps Amazon knows I’ve flown through countless examples of “chick lit” while dabbling in A People’s History of the United States at a snail’s pace? More likely it was that regrettable Twilight purchase.

It reminded me of an e-mail Netflix sent me with the subject line: “Getting More is Easy.” It read:

Hi Amy,

Want more movies at home?
Relatives coming to town?
Long weekends?

Sometimes you need more movies, we’ve all been there. If this is happening to you, consider one of our other plans that gives you more movies at a time.

Whatever the circumstances, we have a plan that’s right for you.

- Your Friends at Netflix

Well, thank YOU for making me feel like a giant loser, Netflix. I received this message during my first winter living alone… I also happened to be single and denying myself cable television. I believe I was on the two-at-a-time/unlimited plan and going through movies at what was apparently an alarming rate, as it triggered this intervention from my Netflix friends. Or maybe my Tristan + Isolde rental was to blame...

While Netflix’s copywriting follows the advertising tradition of alerting consumers of a problem they didn’t know they had and making them feel self conscious enough to buy a solution for it, I think companies should proceed with caution when embarking on targeted, personalized online campaigns. It’s one thing for a magazine ad to subtly suggest an unknown reader may need a stronger deodorant; it’s quite another for a toiletry company to send an e-mail directly to a prospective customer, with a subject line like, “Amy, do you smell?”

But then again, I’d probably open that message, if only out of curiosity, and even though those slightly insulting e-mails from Netflix and Amazon didn’t elicit direct purchases, I will remember them, and I’m still a customer.

So in summary… as a marketer, I suggest flagging potentially embarrassing products and re-thinking follow-up e-mails; as a copywriter, I suggest staying away from concerned-mom/therapist language; and as a consumer, I suggest sending less suggestions and more coupons.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bwahahaha! This post made me laugh out loud. That's one reason I don't go to cosmetics counters, even if I really need some good moisturizer. I stick to CVS because they won't look at my skin and go, "And have you also thought about doing something for those sunspots?" (which I didn't know I had)

Sometimes advertising is such a turnoff that you wonder WHAT the advertisers were thinking. . . good job Netflix.

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