In those halcyon days before the Internet, I, like all Americans, was inundated with nonstop sales pitches.
Those pitches came in the form of tv and radio commercials, print ads, outdoor boards, direct mail, and the occasional door hanger.
Being bombarded with those traditional forms of marketing was, and still is, annoying (and yes, I'm responsible for writing some of it. Guilty as charged).
But pre-Internet, I operated under the quaint delusion that as bad as it was, things surely couldn't get any worse.
Of course, things did get worse. Much worse.
Who could have imagined a world where in addition to the tv commercials, billboards, plus mountains of junk mail crowding our actual mailboxes, we would now also have to contend with a nonstop barrage of virtual junkmail clogging our email mailboxes?
I, for one, didn't see it coming. That's what surprised (and horrified) me most about the advent of the Internet; how the web instantaneously enabled even more insidious and intrusive forms of marketing on a scale previously thought unimaginable.
The Internet exposed — and spawned — a world of opportunistic marketers more unscrupulous, more unconscionable, and more unrelenting than anything we had previously witnessed. It was like turning over a rock and discovering millions of hideous, slimy, blood-sucking insects scurrying around in the muck. All of them looking to crawl into your in-box (and eventually, your wallet).
The lowest form of life on the marketing foodchain is spam. I still can't fathom the sheer volume of spam that's out there. And it keeps morphing into new, even more evil forms; such as the targeted pop-up ads that seem to scream, "So we see you bought a RED SWEATER today? Well, here's ANOTHER RED SWEATER you should buy! And maybe you want some RED SHOES to go with it?"
Those are bad. But I am frankly even more annoyed by the innocent looking emails I routinely receive from companies I've done business with — or similar companies who want their slice of the pie and will stop at nothing to get it.
To me, these retailers' methods are even more insidious than the spammers and scammers. Because these types of emails masquerade as legitimate, friendly "updates" about sales or new merchandise. Updates I never asked for and don't want. And yet they keep coming, like toxic waves washing ashore after an oil spill.
Companies refer to this devious practice as "CRM" or "Customer Relationship Marketing". You see, it's not about selling. It's about relationships. It's about connecting. And sharing. As in, "We want to share our new Spring lineup with you...so you will share your hard earned money with us".
Give them an inch, and these sleazy marketers will take a mile. They're like the creepy guy you smiled at once, and then he starts following you around forever. He only needs a minimum of encouragement and then you can't shake him.
It's the same with marketers today. Just give them a quick glance (in the form of one purchase), and they will glom onto you and stalk you forever online.
The stalking usually begins immediately after I've made a purchase from an online retailer. From that point on, even when I've clearly said, "NO, I don't want to receive promotional emails from you", I start receiving a flood of those promotional emails (plus emails from everyone else they've sold my information to). Because in the Brave New World of online marketing, "No" doesn't mean "No". The word "No" is not even in their vocabulary. Let alone in their marketing strategies.
Every time I receive one of these unsolicited emails, I have to go through the annoying step of unsubscribing. Good luck with that. Most companies pretend to make this process simple. But if you've ever tried it, you know better. It's easier to kill cockroaches than to eradicate the endless onslaught of promotional emails that invade your inbox.
The process goes something like this: First, you click on the "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of your promotional email. Next, you receive a pop-up message containing the obligatory, guilt-inducing "Please don't go!" message. It usually says something like, "We're sorry to see you go. Are you sure you want to unsubscribe from our email promotions?" You click "yes". Another message tells you that you have "Successfully unsubscribed".
But not so fast. It's not that easy. Because you typically receive yet another message saying, "Please note that it may take up to 10 days to process your unsubscribe status." 10 days?? It took you all of a nanosecond to ADD me to this frigging list, but now you can't remove me for 10 whole days??
Ok, whatever. At least you now have a glimmer of hope that the emails from said retailer WILL cease. In just 10 days, you will be forever liberated from emails about their Big Summer Sale and special savings on corduroy leggings!
Sadly, though, your feelings of hope are short lived. Because soon you notice that you are still receiving emails from that very same retailer well beyond the 10 day grace period. Did they not get the message? Don't they know you broke up with them? Apparently not.
Then you proceed to go through the whole goddamn process again: Hit "Unsubscribe", and hope that maybe this time, it will take. Maybe they will hear your cries of "No!!".
Some companies don't let you off the hook that easily. Like a persistent, utterly tone deaf suitor, they want you to explain WHY you broke up with them. Ostensibly, under the guise of "responsiveness", they want to know exactly why you unsubscribed. So after the "We hate to see you go" message, they will ask, "Please tell us why you are unsubscribing". This is usually followed by a menu of multiple choice answers:
A) I'm receiving too many emails
B) Your emails are not relevant to me
(And my favorite, the wonderfully disingenuous...)
C) I don't recall signing up for emails
Really? Are those my only choices? How about "D") "Because I never signed up for your fucking email list in the first place!"
You know how some people say it should be hard to get married and easy to get divorced? I feel the same way about email subscription lists. It should be hard to sign up for them and easy to get out of them.
Wouldn't it be great if, when you first subscribed to a company's email list, they would confirm your decision with questions like, "Are you SURE you want to receive emails from us?" or "I mean, seriously, do you REALLY want to receive a million annoying emails from us?" or "Please don't do anything rash. You might want to reconsider joining this list...before it's too late."
Since that is not going to happen anytime soon, we are stuck with the Sisyphean task of trying to unsubscribe from a tsunami of unwanted emails.
But where there is a need, there is certainly an online service to fill the void. Several companies have sprung up to help you unsubscribe "from everything". One such company, Unroll Me, says "Toss the junk with one click". Wow, toss ALL the junk? Sounds great. Until you realize that in the very next breath, the same people who purportedly want to help you from unsubscribe from junk mail want to sign you up for other annoying services like "The Rollup" ("Combine what you love into one beautiful digest"), which consolidates all your "favorite subscriptions" into one email. Favorite subscriptions? I have no favorite
subscriptions. I want them ALL gone. Banished to some virtual graveyard for promotional emails.
So you see, there is no end to it. We've opened the Pandora's Box of online selling and are now dealing with the aftermath. One annoying email at a time.
Some will say that all of this annoying e-marketing is inescapable and a necessary evil in a free market.
Sorry, but I don't subscribe to that.