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Pet Peeves

by Ann Handley  |  
September 20, 2006

My friend Eileen has a grey striped cat named Nimbus, whose greatest joy is to hunt in the backyard woods and drop his offerings at her back door....

Yesterday, he had brought a freshly slain chipmunk, and placed it lovingly on the doormat, its little velvet ears perpetually perked up–but one second too late, alas, just prior to Nimbus's fatal pounce.
Last week, the offering was a vole. Before that, a bird. Eileen (or one of her kids) never knows when she'll open the door to step out of the house and suddenly be faced with the freshest of Nimbus's kill.
Nasty and pathetic as some of his catches are–particularly those who put up a struggle–Nimbus is nevertheless easily forgiven. After all, he is operating solely on instinct. Far more accountable are those who manage their business the same way Nimbus operates his–by plopping the unwanted and often distasteful straight into our unsuspecting laps.
Here are my top picks for business marketing efforts that are as distasteful as dead mice on the doorstep:
This includes my new best email friend, "Robert benjamen from the Ivory Coast," who has a $10.5 million cocoa fortune to share with me if I forward my bank account number; and phishers, too, who pose as eBay or PayPal and hope I'm not sharp enough to notice. But most annoying lately have been the blog comment spammers–vermin I'd like to feed to Nimbus limb by limb.
Credit card activation "offers."
The other day I called a toll-free number to activate a new credit card. First I had to punch in my 16-digit number. Then I had to wait to speak to a customer service rep–and I wondered: In an era of touch-phone banking... why do I need to talk to a person?
Here's why: So she could try to sell me ongoing access to my credit report, free to me for three months, after which I'd have to remember to cancel it. Considering that I barely remember where I park my car in the mall parking lot, that was not a tempting offer.
Customer service rep: "Are you sure? Because blah blah blah..."
Me: "Yes, I'm sure. And I'm also sure that I'm cutting up this new credit card, too, before I turn the pointy ends of the scissors on YOU!"
Point of sale "partners."
I took my kids to buy a digital camera at Best Buy. At the checkout, the cashier tells us that our purchase qualifies us for a free 8-week trial magazine subscription to one of three Time Warner magazines: Time, Sports Illustrated or Entertainment Weekly. I was a little wiggy–after all, I work with marketers (no offense, guys). But the cashier assured me it was absolutely free, and the kids were in the zone to consume more stuff, and the line behind me was growing longer, so I agreed.
Only after I got home did I see the catch: I had given approval to Best Buy to give my credit card to Time to charge my account for 16 more issues (after the initial free 8) at $24.98. They could also charge auto renewals every 6 months. Otherwise, I could call the toll-free number anytime during the first eight weeks and cancel the subscription, sucka! It didn't actually say "sucka," but it was implied. Best Buy has come under some heat for this practice in the past few years. But still, I'm amazed they'd squander their brand with idiotic shell games.
TiVo's suggestions.
"Dear TiVo: You don't need to anticipate my needs. I have plenty of others in my life who are well trained to do just that. Trust that I am able to operate my DVR and pick out my own content for you to record. After all, it did require nothing short of an advanced engineering degree to hook your device up to my TV, DVD, and VCR in the first place."
I know this option is a TiVo feature you can turn off in TiVo's controls, but it's a silly feature to have at all, especially in a multi-viewer household. (How can it pretend to anticipate the needs of a family whose favorites range from Babylon5 to Full House?)
At best, it feels like Mom picking out my clothes for school. At worst, it feels like Nimbus dropping yet another stinker at my feet.
Have any pet peeves of your own? I'd love to hear them.

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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.

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  • by John Whiteside Wed Sep 20, 2006 via blog

    I found the Tivo suggestions feature useful, and, as you can note, you can turn it off very easily. It's handy in a one-person household (hello, not everyone lives your life). Silly, I think, is complaining a feature that you have to make a conscious effort to even be aware of... and that can be disabled. If only you could do that with those credit card activation offers!

  • by Ann Handley Wed Sep 20, 2006 via blog

    Hi John -- The "TiVo suggests" setting is the default setting on my box. Hence, my point is that I'd rather opt-in than have to opt-out. In the grand scheme, it's not a big deal...but it's nonetheless a pet peeve: another pesky little thing nibbling away at bits of my time. Thanks for your comment!

  • by Lewis Green Wed Sep 20, 2006 via blog

    Ann, You pulled all my triggers, especially your mention of cat owners who allow their pets to roam free. I am a cat owner and lover, and doing so is neither healthy for the cat (disease, dinner for coyotes, etc.) nor other small living things. Here is my number one pet peeve: Clients who expect marketing and sales success on the cheap.

  • by Jennifer Poyer Wed Sep 20, 2006 via blog

    Wow ... where do I start? One of my pet peeves is going to a service establishment (you name it) and being waited on by a staff member who clearly does not understand/know about or care about the mission or goals of the organization, or the success of the establishment. I have been in a position where I had the opportunity to share organizational goals with my staff, and get every team member involved in making them a reality; I SAW these seeds I planted grow and become self-perpetuating, and it did make a huge difference in how my staff felt and interacted with our customers/clients (so I KNOW it can be done, and is not just an unreachable ideal). I have a million stories that are equally (or probably more so) irritating, but this is something that happened recently. Last Friday, I went to a new seafood restaurant in town, proudly carrying a coupon (for a free appetizer) I received in a red envelope with a bunch of other coupons. At the end of the meal we gave it to the waitress, and she said she didn't need the coupon but that she would just take off the appetizer. I tactfully (really, I was very kind) explained that the person tracking the advertising dollars would probably want to know that the coupon came in and that she should probably take it, just so they know what their return on their advertising investment is for these coupons. ... The waitress just stared at me as I smiled up at her (at this point, I was wondering what possessed me to say anything at all? Why couldn't I take my coupon and be happy that I could use it again? Why do I feel obligated to not only shove my coupon at her, but explain ... EXPLAIN why she needs to take it?) After a few seconds of awkward silence with us just sitting there smiling at each other, she then told me that they really never take the coupons and they don't keep track of this stuff (the check did not have any record of the appetizer, no credit ... it was like we didn't order it at all), but that what I said made a lot of sense and that she would take it and give it to the manager. (You can see me holding my breath.) If I were the owner of that little restaurant, I would definitely want to know if I was wasting my money on coupons that were not coming in. At the very least, I would want to know that there were a dozen oysters on the half shell that I was not going to find in the fridge. (I know, I know. I'm throwing pearls to pigs -just can't help myself.)

  • by Mack Collier Wed Sep 20, 2006 via blog

    And I also love it when the cashier at Wal-Mart rings up my total and then looks at me with a blank stare. Even better is when I hand her my money, she hands me my change, I thank her, then she responds with another blank stare, and I leave. Which retailer is it that makes its cashers and greeters the highest paid employees in the store, because they are the FIRST and LAST employees that the customer comes in contact with?

  • by Nathan Wed Sep 20, 2006 via blog

    Great article! I couldn't agree more! Just the other day I was actually reminded of a pet peeve I have that goes in line with the BestBuy one. I'm a college student that just transfered to a new Uni. I was approached while walking to meet up with a friend when a rep from Dominos shuved a coupon in my face and said "Want a free pizza?" Initially I thought "Great! Now I don't have to eat at the cafeteria tonight!" Then I thought for a moment. "Wait... how on earth can Domino's make any money by doing this. They have nothing to upsell... what's the catch?" When I finally met up with my friend he noticed the coupon and asked me "Planning on getting a credit card?" I looked at him oddly. Obviously I wasn't. But apparently I missed the very tiny words of "Restrictions Apply"... and so had he. I guess you have to sign up for a credit card. Way to lose credibility, Domino's. No wait. Way to lose my service. Little Czars is cheaper, anyways.

  • by Burbanked Wed Sep 20, 2006 via blog

    Telemarketers who are pretending to make conversation with me. There's one in particular who calls with messages like this: "Why hello, there. This is the [downtown theater] calling. We see that last October you came to our production of [possibly embarrassing musical theater title redacted]. Me: "Oh. Er. I suppose I did. Who are you again?" "Your seats there in the middle section, row 12. Those were pretty good seats, weren't they?" Me: *sigh* "Yes. Yes they were." "So have you given any thought to theater membership this year...?" Listen, telemarketers. I know what you're doing and you know what you're doing. You're not my friend and you don't care if I liked your show. Please try to sell me your thing - up front - and we'll deal, swiftly and politely, with each other. Because believe me, making me angry is only going to make it tougher on you - or one like you - next time.

  • by Ann Handley Wed Sep 20, 2006 via blog

    Thanks for the comments, all...! Jennifer: Funny story. Reminds me of something I'd do.... Mack: Your comment about vacant Wal-Mart employees reminded me of ANOTHER pet peeve...when check-out clerks chat with each other and ignore the customer. In my town, grocery store cashiers are notorious for this. Either that, or they really DO party a lot and like to chat about it later. Nathan: You get to pay 18 percent AND you get a free pizza! What's wrong with that...? Where's your sense of adventure...? : ) lol...

  • by Ann Handley Wed Sep 20, 2006 via blog

    Alan/Burbanked: Another good pet peeve. I especially hate it when telemarketers greet me all happy and we just had a drink together last night. (sing-song voice...) "Hi Ann! What's up?!" UGH.

  • by Tammy Strnatka Wed Sep 20, 2006 via blog

    Thank God we're all so astute and able to spot a scam but my pet peeve is when companies try to scam the elderly. It makes me crazy angry! I also hate it when drivers won't let you in if you need to change lanes. I live in Tucson and it's an epidemic here. People will drive twice as fast as they were just to keep you from getting in front of them. It's actually really weird. Last but not least, I have cats and they barf at least once a week. I hate that. Thanks for the topic. It's nice to have an opportunity to complain once in a while.

  • by Nathan Thu Sep 21, 2006 via blog

    Ann: Ah yes, i despise it when telemarketers greet that way. But I quite enjoy it when they leave the greeting with an open ended question like "What's up!?" because then I get to respond with "Not your wage." and hang up :)

  • by David Berkowitz Thu Sep 21, 2006 via blog

    Many pet peeves of mine revolve around online registration forms. For instance, I have my contact info stored in Google Toolbar's Autofill feature. Yet most registration forms insist on putting state abbreviations in drop-down boxes (does this really help anyone?). Not only won't that work with autofill, but it also takes far longer to scroll down to NY than it does to type it. I also can't stand registration forms that don't tell you precisely what you did wrong when there's some type of error and you need to correct it. I also really, really can't stand when you have to uncheck opt-in boxes for mailings, and what's even worse is when you have to correct something in the registration page and then uncheck those boxes AGAIN. Argh.

  • by Tammy Strnatka Thu Sep 21, 2006 via blog

    Oh my God!! I just got this evil Spam: "Thousands of Arizonans use Pay Day Loans to borrow money when they cannot get it from traditional financial institutions. At times, these loans are critical to individuals and families in need - especially when they are used to buy food or to pay bills on time. If you have borrowed from a Pay Day loan service and had a positive experience, we'd like to hear from you. Arizonans for Financial Choice (AFFC) is working to protect the Pay Day loan industry and keep this important financial choice available for all Arizonans." Talk about a pet peeve!!!! Abolish the Pay Day Loan industry!!!!

  • by John Whiteside Thu Sep 21, 2006 via blog

    Here's one: software installers that, in addition to installing the piece of software you want, also give you desktop icons, items in the system tray, quick start icons, and other assorted crap - including, sometimes, additional software that you didn't want. You know, I have my desktop set up the way I like it. Don't mess with it. It's bad enough when I am installing things on my own, but then I visit my dad and see how his desktop is entirely filled with icons he doesn't use, but he's not sure what to do with them. Irritating!

  • by Daniel Monday Fri Sep 22, 2006 via blog

    I'm totally in agreement with all of the above, especially the additional icons and such with software installs (I feel your pain John! Why can't I just create a shortcut myself, ya'know?). A big pet peeve for me is when local businesses, mainly little pizza, sub and other restaurant joints, hang their menus on my apartment door or slide it inside the door, repeatedly...over and over again...week after week. Look, I'm obviously not in the mood for a pizza along with your delicious wings, with would definitely meet the $8 minimum for free delivery, but maybe one day. In which case, I will find you online, in the yellow pages or through word from a friend, if you're reaching those other channels effectively, which you probably could if you stopped paying for wasted menus and foot soldiers to pound the pavement to distribute them without solicitation. Sorry, I had to get that off my chest. But honestly, one time is fine, but you shouldn't be doing it every week or even every month. I actually don't think they should be doing it all, but I do see a little value in it when done with some restraint. These businesses should keep track of the apartments they "hit," and only go back every year or so. Chances are the resident will have moved and there may be a new prospect, or the current resident will actually be in the mood for pizza or a sub, and at the same time not be annoyed from the previous week's menu hanging from the door handle.

  • by Gary Katz Fri Sep 22, 2006 via blog

    Love your list, Ann. My biggest pet peeve these days has got to be getting automated phone calls from politicians, real estate brokers and so on. I don't want a damn computer calling me and I really get pissed when I get one of these messages on my business line!

  • by Anne Fri Sep 22, 2006 via blog

    Peeve #1: Mail-in rebates. They NEVER come, EVER! Peeve #2: Sales people who don't know their product. I bought a car a little over a year ago. It's a big purchase, so I did my research. I actually had to answer the sales person's questions about the vehicle I wanted to purchase! I knew WAY more than he did! (And no, I didn't buy the car from him.) Peeve #3: Business-to-business telemarketers. They're shocked that I send them to voicemail, and they think that leaving me multiple messages constitutes a relationship. Peeve #4: The roaming neighborhood cats. Normally I wouldn't mind, but they like my sandbox, and think that my miniature pinsher puppy looks like a tasty snack.

  • by Blaine Collins Sat Sep 23, 2006 via blog

    One more pet peeve to add: Paper phone books. Where I live, two different companies leave both white and yellow pages on my porch. This amounts to thousands of pages of material that I have never requested and never use. I have no desire for a hard copy of the digital information. Why are paper phone books not opt-in?

  • by Ann Handley Sun Sep 24, 2006 via blog

    Thanks for the wonderful venting, all....don't you all feel CLEANSED?! p.s. Blaine: How could I forget...? Those paper phone books are the ULTIMATE in doormat virmin....

  • by John Tue Sep 26, 2006 via blog

    I actually like the paper phone book because for some very mundane things (like getting your gutters cleaned or something) I find online yellow pages useless - there are so many ads for national businesses that it's just frustrating. AT&T published a super-local version of the phone book for a couple of Houston neighborhoods near me - it's handy. As for the door hang tags, I have a very practical reason for hating them - I travel a lot and it seems to me that those things piling up basically say, "Nobody home, come on in & steal the TV!"

  • by Jen Sprague Tue Sep 26, 2006 via blog

    %3Estore (grocery, drug store, card store, etc.) care/extra value/pain-in-the-neck cards -- I'm always getting coupons from these "value" cards for things I NEVER purchase! Where's the value? %3EB2B sales people for marketing/sales services who accuse me of not wanting to save my company money because I'm not taking them up on their services. Hmm, can you please connect me with your boss and I'll tell them how they can save some money... on your salary? %3Edoor-to-door publishing sales persons who always manage to "guilt" me into buying things I don't need with their personal struggle stories -- hey, I started in children's book publishing and managed to stretch a block of cheese into "dinner" for the week

  • by Bart Foreman Tue Sep 26, 2006 via blog

    We marketers work so hard to create e-mails that promote our products or, in my case, our clients' products and services. Then, we send them to a g-mail account and, wonder of wonders, an add for a competitive product posts right next to the brand we are promoting. Whoever said this is a free country never did marketing. I'm thinking of isolating those g-mail addresses and sending them a special message that indicates that our brands are better than the parasite brands that appear with our e-mail targeted just for you, the reader. Did I notice two Google ads on your blog? At least they didn't invite your readers to one of your competitors. But if I had g-mail, maybe I would have opportunities to click away. Thank God, we like Ann too much to do that? Or do we? Relationships can be so fleeting. That's my pet peeve in addition to all Ann's.

  • by Alex Tue Sep 26, 2006 via blog

    Tops on my list is irritating junk mail from refinance companies that pretends to be "official" correspondence from the IRS or some other gov't agency. You know, those essentially blank envelopes that imply important, confidential info is inside. Made up to look like property tax bills from the county assessor or official notices from a bank. There isn't enough info on the outside to allow me to shred it unopened, but the moment I see what's inside it's in the round file.

  • by Graham Tue Sep 26, 2006 via blog

    Just got one today...Web sites that tell you their privacy policy has changed but do not tell you what has changed about it. So now you have to spend an hour reading through the entire thing again and checking with the lawyers that it is still ok to use this site.

  • by Monica Powers Mon Oct 9, 2006 via blog

    Would definitely have to say telemarketers (who should not be ringing me in the 1st place) saying "Why not?" repeatedly after two or three NOs, or having the gall to tell me "this is not a sales call" after I ask them to place me on their Do Not Call list. I've often wondered if they actually ever sign up any new customers using these tactics.

  • by Marketing Profs Daily Fix Thu Nov 9, 2006 via blog

    Dogged By Dodgy Ads

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