September 29, 2002

There’s a sign on the front door to my building. It says “No Menus, please.” The people in my building can’t stand it when restaurants leave stacks of take-out menus in our building’s vestibule, or when delivery people leave menus in front of our apartment doors. They clutter up the place. Sometimes, the vestibule looks like someone threw a private ticker tape parade in there. So we ask restaurants to avoid leaving their menus around. Pretty simple, no?

Except that some restaurants completely ignore our request. They leave menus and specials flyers all over the place. When this happens, I take a copy of the menu upstairs with me, gather up any menus I might have already received in the mail from that particular restaurant, and throw them all in the trash. I never order a meal from a restaurant that breaks our building’s rule.

Some people might think me anal-retentive. But stop to think about it for a second. The people in my building have said that they don’t wish to receive communication this way, and they give good reason for it. Some restaurants feel that the chance that they might get some short-term business outweighs our need to keep our vestibule tidy. That’s not their call to make. Assuming that they can break the rule is disrespectful and every violation communicates to the people in my building that the offending restaurant doesn’t care about what we want, they only want business. That’s why I throw out the menus from the overzealous restaurants.

Anybody seeing a parallel between this situation and how some businesses approach direct response advertising on the web? We tell DR advertisers that we don’t want to see excessive, untargeted and irrelevant pop-ups, yet they persist in delivering them to us. My colleague Tig Tillinghast, in his column last week, described the negative brand experience that results as “bad ju-ju.”

I agree with Tig that many companies out there are being shortsighted with their marketing efforts. Looking to generate a short-term pop in their business, they saturate the web with untargeted and irrelevant pop-ups, spam and other forms of advertising that offend their customer base. Long-term damage to the brand results.

The latest instance of offensive online advertising that I’ve seen is what I’ll call “Guestbook Spam.” Guestbooks are used by many websites out there. They’re sort of the Internet equivalent of the little book you leave outside your wedding reception for guests to sign. I have one on my personal website, and it’s for friends and well-wishers who want to let me know that they’ve stopped by my website.

Guestbooks are usually generated by a popular CGI script. When someone signs the guestbook, the script adds their comments to the guestbook page and then drops an e-mail to the webmaster to let him know that someone stopped by. Unfortunately, some companies have decided that guestbooks are now a legitimate online marketing medium.

About a week ago, I got my first piece of Guestbook Spam. It reads as follows:

Hi to you and your guests. Having just had lasik eye surgery I can see what a great job you've done here. I recommend laser eye surgery to anyone. I swear by laser surgery and/or lasik surgery if you need that. I thought you'd like a little verbal communication on this point. Great job!!!

Of course, the spammer knows that not only will this message reside in my guestbook for all my site visitors to see (until I overcome my laziness and get around to deleting the damned thing), but it will also generate an email to me containing the same message. What the spammer has failed to consider, however, is that I consider this type of “advertising” to be offensive, annoying and irrelevant.

First of all, I have perfect 20-20 vision, so I have no need for laser eye surgery. Secondly, I feel that this spammer must think me stupid enough to believe that this spam was generated by a person who was legitimately impressed by the content of my website. Not to mention that I resent the fact that someone has taken my decidedly non-commercial venue and attempted to turn it into an ad venue for themselves. It almost goes without saying that I would never buy anything from this spammer.

I continue to be amazed at some of the shortsightedness of today’s Internet marketing campaigns. If we are to enhance our brands through Interactive media, we need to take an objective look at what we’re doing and assess its potential negative impacts alongside the positive ones.

Ignore the negative ramifications at your peril.

By Tom Hespos
Courtesy of http://www.MediaPost.com

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