Consent does not mean confusing your recipients


Cam Beck on Marketing Prefs has a post today about presenting users with confusing choices in an opt-in process.

Bank of America followed the letter of the law, but they did so with a method that can only be described as misleading since people typically don’t read those sorts of messages, and the action required to opt out changes from one email message to the next within the same form.
I’ve been in these sorts of debates before: The marketing managers are presumably concerned that their bonuses will be partially based on the number of people who sign up for emails. I can think of no other reason they are so adamant that they find some way to ensure people get marketing spam they don’t want.

Many years ago when I was handling abuse@ very large network provider, one of our very large, well known customers was having some problems with people complaining about spam. After much discussion between their executives, the abuse desk and our executives the customer agreed to uncheck the opt-in boxes allowing customers to actually opt-in to email.
Somewhere around six months later, the checkboxes were turned back on.
When we asked the customer about it, they said that not enough people opted in to the email when the boxes were unchecked by default, so they had to turn them back on.
My happy, customer-facing persona prevented me from jumping up and down and loudly pointing out that just because someone failed to uncheck a box did not mean they were actually consenting to receive email from this customer.
That was many years ago, on a very different Internet; before the days of feedback loops and whitelists. The ISPs did not have any way to measure user engagement or complaints. It did not matter if the consent was just a user missing or forgetting to uncheck an opt-in box, it was still consent — at least in the eyes of the marketer.
Many companies, including Bank of America, are still trying to confuse the consent out of recipients. That’s not really consent. The users do not really want your mail. They are not actively engaged in your mailings or your company.
Do you really want recipients who are only on your list because you made it too confusing for them to express their choice?
Hat tip: Matt

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  • True story:
    A mid-sized US retail chain decided they were going to do e-mail marketing. Since they had little previous Internet presence (or internal clue) they decided that the best way to build their e-mail list was to require all their retail outlets to ask customers to sign up for their e-mail list. The closing manager was to enter that day’s addresses collected as part of the store closing ritual, and the number or email addresses collected became part of the package of statistics a store (and its manager) was judged on.
    Not surprisingly, most customers balked at giving up their e-mail addresses, but the pressure to keep up the number of addresses collected continued unabated from On High. Retail staff, more afraid of losing their jobs than of deliverability issues, started making up addresses, adding the same address multiple times, and even pulling email addresses off the Internet in order to get their numbers up.
    Moral of the story: you need to get your incentives aligned all the way down the line if you want a clean list.

  • I can relate to Sprezzatura’s comment, I worked at a big box store that sells home improvement stuff at low prices, they decided they wanted to get phone numbers to “track how far our customers traveled”. So we were told that when we couldn’t get a phone number to make up a random number in one of the 5 area codes in our area… It turned out I learned after I left the company that these numbers were used to solicit customers to purchase other things, or for credit offers.

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