Hostage Marketing: Hot New Fad For 2010?


hostage marketingThere’s a lot of trust and permission that goes into marketing to someone.  People need to trust that you’re going to be accountable for the promises that you make. They need to know that if they give you permission to opt them into your newsletter, that you’ll ONLY use their email for that purpose.  They need to trust that if they sign up for a authentic experience,  that you won’t hand them back fake designer sunglasses instead. And just because they give you permission in one area, doesn’t mean that all their data is up for grabs.   Despite the example Google is trying to set, marketing is about trust, permission and not being a jerk.

I know it’s shocking but people don’t respond well to hostage marketing. It’s off-putting, douchey, and makes people not want to play with you anymore.   Interested in hearing a few recent examples.  Well, okay.

Hostage Taking Example: The Over-Eager Emailer

My friend Keri Morgret (she makes model warship replicas) emailed me earlier this week. The subject of her email was “how not to listen to your customers” and was actually a forward of an ongoing “conversation” she had been having with a JCPenney bot. A conversation that made me want to drive to my nearest JCPenney and punch someone in the face.

The issue was this: Keri had signed up to receive weekly emails from JCPenney about upcoming sales. However, with the holidays quickly approaching, it seems like the retailer was looking to bump up their advertising. So instead of receiving weekly emails, Keri was now receiving daily emails. And while Tamar Weinberg is right that a relationship isn’t always a newsletter opt-in, sometimes it’s exactly that. Instead of sending Keri just one weekly email, they took her email address hostage and were sending marketing materials whenever they felt like it. They broke their promise and when she reached out to resolve the problem, they robotically informed her to unsubscribe if she didn’t like it. No one listened. No one cared. They just threw away the relationship. A relationship where Keri had already opted in to be updated about them.  Dumb.

Hostage Taking Example: The Playlist Thief

Rhea and I went to a great Albany coffee shop called Uncommon Grounds yesterday. Shortly after we got there, Rhea lost her shit. Why? Because hell hath no fury like a busy Web woman who just had her playlists stolen right from under her. Turns out that Imeem had just been acquired by MySpace Music. Only, neither Imeem or MySpace Music thought to mention to its users that this would be happening.  They also didn’t mention that the personal playlists users had spent hours creating would vanish when Imeem lost licensing. Users weren’t informed of any of this until it was too late. No playlists and no idea when they might be available again? Holy angry people.

Whereas JCPenney’s handled their hostage taking by talking to people like robots, Imeem, for the most part, went mute. They just let people bitch on Twitter and evoke quite a PR nightmare.  Well done.

Hostage Taking Example: Google Personalized & Real-Time Search

This is a different post for a different day (like, perhaps later this week), but I think we can all agree that Google fell off a cliff the past few days to become one of the scariest and most egregious hostage taker the world has seen.  It was worse than most of us even expected it to be.  Again, more on this from us later, but for now – holy bejesus to the things we’re looking at right now!  And Eric Schmidt’s mom-like stance on Internet privacy.

The point is – when you take people’s data hostage without their authorization they tend to react badly.  And by “badly” I mean “it makes them hate you”.  It’s a violation of their trust, of your promise, and of everything else that social media and direct marketing is based around. Don’t partake in hostage taking. It’s just not nice. Even if your name starts with a ‘G’ and rhymes with “Schmoogle”.

Your Comments

  • David Zemens

    The core issue always seems to fall back to relationship building. Just like real life, relationship building on the InterWeb involves establishing a bond of trust between individuals. Yes, I said individuals. We wouldn’t want someone with whom we had established a relationship in-the-flesh to take us, or our data, hostage. We don’t appreciate it any less when it happens on the InterWeb.

  • Michael D

    I’ve been having this hostage relationship with Verizon for over a year now, we get weekly sales calls to “upgrade” our business lines even though we are in a 3-year contract. Apparently, the calls come from a department that is disconnected from the rest of the company, with nobody offering up any responsibility for the marketing campaign. Sad to see companies use such methods.

    • Lisa Barone

      I spent a good 30 min on the phone with Verizon as they were trying to get me to upgrade something. I kept telling them I wasn’t interested and the guy just wouldn’t stop talking. I hate hanging up on people but…after 30 minutes it was clear he wasn’t going to end his spiel no matter how disinterested I was. Sorry.

  • Nick Gowdy

    I can just imagine the short-sighted group-think that goes into businesses believing these are sound marketing decisions: “Yeah, spam the hell out of these peoples’ Inboxes. We might piss a lot of people off, but we’ll make up for it with a surge of sales to close the year! Then we’ll blame January’s bad numbers on the economy. That’s still doing bad, right?”

    Meanwhile there’s the lone reputation manager sitting in the back of the room hating their life, but not having the spine or clout to stop it from happening.

    • Lisa Barone

      Ha. Mental image, FTW. The problem is none of these businesses think about their customers or what their response to the action will be. They’re not even thinking that far. All they’re thinking about is those dollars signs — which is sad because dollar signs don’t generate themselves. You need people to do that and a lot of businesses are seriously pissing off those customers.

  • Elisa

    If you click on the imeem Twitter search link, you can see that most people don’t realize imeem sold out as a last resort (they were out of cash, up against license renewals and hit with a lawsuit); they just think, ‘Oh, it’s part of MySpace now, I guess they decided to suck.’ I guess you throw reputation management out the window when you’re about to die.

  • Steve Perez

    Along with Google’s launch of Real-Time Search, all the head spinning deals being brokered between search engines and social media outlets, a lot of folks are beginning to wonder just “Whose data (my data) is it anyway? theirs, ours, yours , the Feds?” In this case, the bloodied casualty of instant gratification search technology is privacy. Or, maybe, somewhere down the road, in the twinkling of an eye, all the major search engines become self aware as one entity, like Skynet, and we then live our lives vicariously through them. Here come the Borg.

    • Nick Gowdy

      “…all the major search engines become self aware as one entity, like Skynet, and we then live our lives vicariously through them. Here come the Borg.”

      Did you just combine Terminator, The Matrix, and Star Trek into some kind of superfuture? And yet, somehow, the idea of Google and Microsoft coming together is the least plausible aspect.

      • Steve Perez

        I believe the only relevant movie reference I omitted is “Discovering the object of the game is the object of the game.” – The Game (1997- Michael Doulas – Sean Penn). I think Google and Microsoft have yet to figure it out, in a purely real time, metaphorical sense.

  • Maranda

    I’ve had my first experience with this recently with my cable company. I thought I had rid myself of them last year, but with a move I had to go back. They keep calling my personal cell phone (which has no connection to them) asking me if I would like to 1.) Upgrade and 2.) They’ll throw in Showtime for 6 months. My response is always the same, I’m already a customer, why are you pulling my cell number off my account to offer me something that I already have? My response will be to pull my account when my contract is up. They don’t care about me being a part of their business, they only want more money, losing me won’t hurt them and they know it.