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:
Spam. 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.
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 ClickZ.com, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.