« Lollapalooza with an iPhone | Main | Do you love your job? »

August 11, 2009


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Sleazy opt-in email tactics from otherwise reputable organizations :


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Charles Neville

That's a pretty bad case. I don't think it's a function of the bad economy causing sleazier practices, they were always there. It's this sort of the thing that makes people think all marketers are bad. The problem is the view that all email addresses are of equal value, no matter how they were obtained. That's simply not true as we (you, the people who read your books and blog) well know.

Jonathan Kranz

I see this all the time -- and seethe. Both as an annoyed consumer and as a marketer who hates seeing the profession abused like this.

Jodi Kaplan

Something similar just happened to me. I signed up for a local business happy hour some weeks ago, and now I'm getting email marketing messages from the bar where it was held. I didn't ask for this.

Bob Williams

If the company keeps that many distinct email opt-in flags then you'd like to see those at the time of sign-up. That might scare some people away because the form is too long and requires more clicks. But at least the customer gets to decide upfront which email they are opting in to receive.

A worse case scenario is if the company only keeps a single opt-in flag for all emails. That becomes one size fits all and you may have to just unsubscribe if you get content you didn't want.

Deb Collins

Dear David:
I want to thank you for helping us catch an issue that is counter to our intent and practice. Upon reading the blog, and researching the situation, we immediately pulled all other scheduled sends of this format and are taking corrective steps to remedy the problem.

As a way of background, we are very proud to operate in some of the world's most special places and place high value on dealing with our guests with integrity and transparency. Our research has shown that a majority of our guests are looking for other unique life-enriching experiences. Toward that end, we issue a quarterly email that provides information and value-added offers for the location to those who have signed up. In these emails, we also introduce our other locations, unless the person has opted only for that location.

We recently redesigned the email format and the email you reference was the first send of that architecture. In reviewing the email, I can see how you came to your conclusions as it does not follow our typical content standards – where the content is focused on the original location, not generic about all locations.

Add insult to injury, we recognize that the opt-out process is cumbersome and are in the process of changing over our email service provider for a more user-friendly process for both the opt-in and opt-out actions.

While no marketing professional likes to read something like this about their own company (in fact "horrified" describes it at best!), I appreciate your insight that will help us look more closely at this practice and make quick adjustments to something that could have damaged our relationship with other guests. My only regret is that our normally rigorous QA and internal data-integrity process didn't catch this before this version was issued in the first place.

Deb Collins, VP of Sales & Marketing, Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts

David Meerman Scott


Many thanks for taking the time to quickly reach out to me and also to leave the thoughtful comment. I'm sure my readers appreciate it.

It is certainly encouraging that you have reviewed your email marketing programs and that you have made changes.


Tom Butlin

Hi Deb
Probably the best damage control response to a blog / email / hidden camera TV show or other public rant, that I have ever seen. Well done.
Straight out of "The New Rules Of Marketing And PR", co-incidentally written by David Meerman Scott.
PS, Great book David, I have nearly finished it.

Omar Halabieh

This blog post and the associated replies is a living proof of something we discussed earlier in the blog post on Amazon's gone wrong Kindle experience (http://www.webinknow.com/2009/07/amazon-apologizes-for-orwell-kindle-mishap-but-was-it-too-late.html). It does prove that when incidents such as this one are handled promptly and appropriately and addressed directly to the user community that raised them does make a big impact/difference! Great work Deb, and I hope other companies follow suit.


Colin Warwick

Wow! Deb is fast. David, can you ask her to share what tool she used to detect your original post? Cheers!


Nice work. I think a lot of this stems from people not being email marketing experts. Those of us who've been around for a while realise that we need to offer good content and not annoy our subscribers if we want to have long term success, but a lot don't realise this.

Maybe we need to let these people know what they're doing wrong, like David did here :)


Brenda Sullivan

I've had the same thing happen with Newsmax. I signed up for David Letterman's Top 10 every day. Instead, I received a bunch of other gibberish. I've tried to unsubscribe twice (the same 14 choices that David mentioned) and HAVE BEEN UNABLE TO! So now I have a rule to delete anything from Newsmax before it arrives. Which makes me mad and bums me out at the same time because now I can't receive the Top 10 list either.

Margaret Ebeling

What a great email marketing example, from both David and Deb. As a fellow marketing director, I oversee eight different businesses, and I make it excruciatingly clear to each business and my team that there is to be no intermingling of email lists across these businesses. Here's why:

*Customers trust us with their information and when we acquire it, we need to remember that they are customers and that we are grateful that they would spend their dollars and time with us. You cannot violate this trust - ever - whether on premise or virtually.

*We could be sending something that they do not care at all about, so when we do send them relevant information, they hit delete before they open it (as to Brenda Sullivan's post before mine.)

*Cost. Not many people know that email newsletters have costs - the people to research and write, as well as the email subscription. We pay $16 per 1,000 emails sent. That adds up. You know only 20-30 percent of people will even open them on a qualified opted-in list. If I send an email to 10,000 people, and only 2,500 open it, then I have already wasted $120. This adds up for small companies. And will that $160 (+ labor) bring in the business? Is your offer compelling enough to get people to act?


Check this irony out!

Some marketers have a tiny check box at the bottom of their comment box. By default, it is checked!

So if you visit their blog to leave a comment, you are automatically signed up to receive their free reports.

Even though technically, you did not opt-in.

Yes, these are the same folks that preach the "permission marketing gospel".

David Meerman Scott

What a great discussion. Many thanks to all for commenting. I've learned a lot from this and am glad that I wrote the post and that Deb commented.

Joe Ray

In reading David's post and following through the commentary, this is a great case study. Situation-problem-solution-result. Good one for a conference presentation.

So much of the frustration I find comes from the opt-out process being muddied up (screwed up) by lawyers justifying themselves. That's where the real sleaze is. At that point it's not about marketing, it becomes a situation where the lawyers and accountants are running the asylum. Sort of like Planet of the Apes gone awry.

Deb did a good job of following up and addressing the situation. Very commendable.

Elizabeth K. Barone

I see this happening entirely too often, but there is a bright side; Deb responded very quickly and I give you so much credit for that!

Tony Faustino

This post, the swift and sincere response by Ms. Collins, and the insightful discussion points are why I read WebInkNow daily.

What I find most impressive about Ms. Collins' response is the genuineness of the apology and the stated approach for correcting the action. Bravo! A real person stating how her organization will thoughtfully take corrective action. In my opinion, Ms. Collins turned a potential PR nightmare into a PR 101 learning opportunity for Corporate America.

Jodi Kaplan

Following up my original comment (#3 above):

I emailed the happy hour organizer and complained about the unwanted marketing. Yesterday, the restaurant called me, apologized for the error, and thanked me repeatedly for complaining!

Seth Godin

I'm not so sanguine, here. Deb is spinning. Do they really believe, "Our research has shown that a majority of our guests are looking for other unique life-enriching experiences".

Wow, well if that's true, why do it only four times a year? Four times a year is the sort of strategy you'd take if you only wanted to annoy people a little, but not enough to make them flee.

If they had the guts to use OPT IN (which is real permission) then they'd have the privilege (not the right) to email weekly. But of course, that's not what they do, because they're not thinking like permission marketers.

Points to Deb for speed, but not for the organization that clearly doesn't get it. She shouldn't be fixing their opt out in the email, she should be fixing the opt in in the first place. The button you clicked on doesn't match, "In these emails, we also introduce our other locations, unless the person has opted only for that location." You clearly opted only for one location, right?

David Meerman Scott

Seth - Yes indeed. I am only interested in Kennedy Space Center, not the rest of the stuff. So anything else is an annoyance.

It will be interesting to see if they really do fix it or if they continue to try to sell me stuff I do not want.

Tom Kelly

Thanks for sharing this story here and in your presentation. I'm a big fan of using a bad situation to build advocates and Deb's quick response was admirable.

Robert Wogrin

Great discussion. I think the macro of this speaks to how fast communication is changing. What used to be considered the norm, interruption marketing, is now completely unacceptable. Permission is key and without it a business will lose.

Angela Rivera

Great post! I can so relate to feeling "abused" by email subscriptions, but the best part of this post was the discussion that came out of this post and the great example Deb displayed on the importance of trying to turn a negative into a positive. Thanks David for posting this and allowing us the chance to see some great marketing communication.

Teri Gidwitz

Having worked for an enormous international company with a multitude of divisions, I am not surprised that this sort of thing happens all the time.

Without an indivdual or centralized team charged with overseeing cross-business customer experience and playing ringmaster to what is otherwise a circus, the potential for miscoordinated opt-in gathering and email campaign efforts is immense. Add to that the reality that most senior management teams in established old-school organizations have a reverence for the inexpensive cost of sending email and have little appreciation for the hornets nest into which they walk constantly.

If someone in the organization could present the risk/reward scenario to leaders at these organizations, they'd ensure that the way they set up their processes and systems prevents these scenarios from occurring so that any info sent to these customers and prospects continues to adhere to what the recipients signed up for in the first place.

J White

Like Brenda on August 12, I have tried unsuccessfully to unsubscribe from Newsmax.com. We receive probably 4-5 emails per day from them. Does anyone know how to contact their webmaster to complain?

Data Quality

That seems like a bait and switch by the Space Center. I think this is a fine line for email marketers to deal with in these economic times. Obviously, they want to generate business, but are they risking the business of potential consumers by sending them emails that they didn't ask for? Additionally, being the American way, I can see a class action lawsuit coming if too many businesses keep doing this and the public gets outraged and annoyed by it.

Raz Chorev

early on in my career, I read an important book - A complaint as a gift. Seems like Deb Collins read it as well.
Seth, people can't change 180 degrees over night - Deb has responded quickly, thanked David for his complaint, and promised to do her best to rectify the situation. It doesn't have to be perfect the first time - Learning is a process, not an event.

David - great post, and excellent discussion - in a true web 2.0 style!


Great post! and one that I feel compelled to make a comment on. David, again you have taken the words right out of my mouth and hit on the #1 thing that I detest about email marketing opt ins. What can I say except for the fact that it ANNOYS THE HELL OUT OF ME and BURNS my ASS to no extent! And thats putting it kindly. I run into this everywhere and I just don't get it. I can't tell you how many times I signed up for something that was of interest to me or of some really good reputable company that bombarded the hell out of me with too many emails. I'm even going to go as far as saying that their have actually been online marketers who I thought a lot of that reccommend someone or a company to me only to find out later that I was being attacked with too many emails. I not only think its rude but it makes them look so desperate and hard up for business. Nobody wants to associate or do business with somebody or a company that runs their email marketing like this.

Beth Marshall


I'm late to comment, but kudos for looking into the "why" and not just deleting the unwanted e-mail. Shining a light on these practices is the best way to change them. Giving the business the benefit of the doubt (and that is generous), at least now they see the gap between their ill-conceived intent, and the way it really plays to the recipients.

The comments to this entry are closed.


Your email address:

Powered by FeedBlitz

follow me

David Meerman Scott books

I want to speak at your next event!


David Meerman Scott e-books

David's iPhone and iPad apps

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 12/2004