Hostage Marketing: Hot New Fad For 2010?

December 9, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Online Marketing

There’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”.

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