Love Letters

If you don't watch daytime TV talkshows, direct mail is an excellent alternate reminder of humankind's extravagant neediness. Even the most preposterous letter you receive is likely to have been rigorously tested and measured for effectiveness; if it's gotten to you, it generally means that it's already worked on someone else.

Because I recently subscribed to a lot of magazines, I'm now reaping the rewards of having had my name sold to dozens of direct mailers; every day seems to bring at least two or three new offers. So far, the best has been one of those "survey-style" direct mail letters.

It was a large piece, 8 1/2 x 11, with the following headline on the outside of the envelope above my address: "Mr. Beato...From Thousands of Successful Households In The State of California, We Have Chosen You For Your Opinions."

Of course, I was an easy target for such sentiments: my opinions, much as I'm enamored of them, generally make little impact on the world, and my shabby apartment has definitely never been mistaken for a "successful household." So I opened the envelope, which included, amongst a variety of letters and brochures, a documents that was labeled "Official Survey Form."

The "survey" was quite detailed; it contained approximately 20 questions. Its emphasis was on dining; the mailing was from a company marketing a "Dining a la Card" club: for a $49.95 annual fee, the club membership provides you with a 20% rebate at participating restaurants.

In effect, of course, what the survey actually is is an application form. If you complete it, your reward for your time is two free months of membership. (What the mailing doesn't make clear, however, is whether or not you're able to cancel the subsequent $49.95 membership when the two free months expire.)

My question is: why not just call it an application? Like another mailing I once wrote about, the pretense only seems to invoke annoyance. While it seems unlikely that anyone who really wanted to join the club would be so put off by the "survey" gimmick that it would actually persuade them not to join, it also seems unlikely that anyone would complete the "survey" without realizing that rather than being rewarded for their valued and exclusive opinions they were simply buying a service that was available to anyone with fifty spare bucks and a desire to eat discounted food at the likes of Kenny's Steakhouse and The Stuft Noodle.

But of course I am wrong in this belief. If the "survey" was not a convincing sales tool, it would not exist; the direct mailers would just use a simpler application form. In the end, the fact that it does work is the best argument for benevolence I can think of: are people so desperate for attention, so eager to feel important, that they will mistake a cheap sales pitch for flattery?

How can you not love them?

-- G. Beato

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