When Direct Marketing Becomes Misdirected Marketing

A Look At How Brands Motivate Response in a Digital Age

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I've been taking a closer look at how brands deliver offers to motivate response in the digital age and a few themes are coming into view. Here are two so far, highlighted by what, to me, are the dumbest offers of the year so far:

After 17 years, you don't know me?

Citi adEnlarge

This e-mail offer to me from CitiMortgage for $100 if I get my first Citibank checking account is pretty generous. It's better than the $25 that a lot of banks like ING were using about a year ago. Problem is, I've had a Citi checking account since I started in advertising at FCB in 1992 -- in fact, my household has two of them plus savings accounts. That's 17 years of loyal and consistent customer experience. I've also been a customer of CitiMortgage since 1999 (I know they're separate, though most customers would and should think they're more closely aligned -- at least in data sharing). That's 10 years.

I looked for a way to let them know I already was a Citibank customer so they can fix their outbound stuff. There was only a button and phone number to apply. So if I want to tell them about this, I can't even e-mail or call -- there's a mailing address to which I can snail mail a letter (the department for mailing your letter is, ironically, called E-mail/Internet Services). Citibank obviously wants to make it as difficult as they can to hear what people think of this. I am curious, though, so I'm going to do it.

This lack of insight into relationship marketing and poor data management is dumb, avoidable and I'm embarrassed for a brand that has done so much in digital and direct marketing. Remember that for all its problems now, the Citi brand has been one of the biggest innovators in the digital space, starting with Direct Access.

Don't shower and save on shampoo


The insight that people now are desperately looking for savings everywhere is right on. So when NetZero proposed in a DRTV ad that its product could save people money, they're not wrong. Admittedly, it's a kind of opportunistic entrepreneurialism I advocate our teams thinking of for clients. Be timely. Use what you have.

But once you look at the offer itself, it cracks me up: America can save billions if people switch from broadband to dial-up with NetZero. Yes, dial-up. Get rid of the excess you don't need. And, after all, you're connecting to the same internet.

I wonder if NetZero really expects people to go back to dial-up? If they are serious that this is a substantial offer, it's likely just a few would bother. Isn't there a more targeted way to get to these few without over-reaching with DRTV as a medium? Maybe e-mail instead? Targeted online banner? Flyer at the supermarket?

A more cynical view is that they mean it for not the few they're talking to but the base of dial-up customers on AOL and elsewhere. It's actually a competitive ad masquerading as something else. Strange, no matter your interpretation, and I wonder if it worked.

I suspect these are two offers I wasn't supposed to see.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mat Zucker is executive creative director at OgilvyOne, where he's working on scaling the direct model in a digital world. He previously held senior creative positions at Agency.com and R/GA.
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