True Confessions: the Daily Mail and I

A blogger should be honest with her readers, so I guess I should confess: I am a regular Daily Mail reader.

The Mail is a British tabloid whose politics lean so far right it’s a wonder it has any left-hand pages at all. Its Femail and entertainment sections regularly report breathlessly on which actresses have gained a few ounces, neglected to shave their underarms for a day, or failed to lose their pregnancy weight within three months. Its health coverage is so sensationalistic, there’s a Facebook group titled The Daily Mail List of “Things That Give You Cancer” that has nearly 47,000 members.  In short, it’s everything that I loathe in the media.

None of which stops me from logging on to its website every evening.

Oh, I’d never actually pay for the paper. When I lived in England I bought the Guardian or the Mirror, like the good liberal I am. I rationalized that as long as I’m not fiscally supporting the Mail, it was okay for me to read it. True, I’m helping to boost its online traffic, which in turn enables it to woo web advertisers, which I haven’t found a way to rationalize yet, but I’m working on it.

The closest I’ve gotten is to declare that I’ll never buy from a company that advertises on its website, but in this day of ad networks and retargeting banners, that’s pretty much impossible. But it does raise a point: Website visitors that we believe to be faithful followers and advocates may well be faithful haters instead.

By my online behavior—the fact that I click through to the Mail and numerous of its stories at least once a day, that I tend to comment on an article at least once a week (I defy anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together not to write a scathing comment in response to Liz Jones’s self-righteousness on occasion)—it would be easy to assume that I would also be sympathetic to other right-way publications and whatever products such sympathizers tend to buy (“Keep England White” T-shirts, perhaps?). Perhaps that’s why on Facebook I’m often served ads for Newsmax, the U.S. media company for those who think the Mail too soft on immigration.

But just as what people say they do is often quite different from what they actually do, which is why self-reported surveys can be so misleading (the old “I only watch an hour of TV once a day, and even then it’s only PBS documentaries” canard), what people do is often quite different from what they believe.

Another personal example would be my subscription to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop enewsletter. As part of her efforts to become a lifestyle guru—oops, I mean, her efforts to make the world a better place and help us lesser mortals become as fabulous as she is—Paltrow several years ago launched a weekly newsletter filled with her favorite recipes, travel tips, shops, detox regimens, and the like. Which would be swell if she had a clue as to how most normal folks (read: people who have not won an Oscar, do not call Steven Spielberg “Uncle Morty,” and are not married to millionaire musicians) actually live. Unlike Paltrow, most normal folks do not consider a recipe that requires agave nectar, asparagus, and toasted nori seaweed an affordable, easy-to-whip-up lunch for their kids to take to school.   

I look forward to seeing Goop in my inbox every week not because I eagerly await Paltrow’s advice but because Gwyneth’s tone-deaf but oh-so-earnest attempts to relate to us normal folks warms the mocking cockles of my usually frozen heart. (Every Goop reminds me of a friend’s comment upon watching Brooke Shields in a guest stint on Friends ages ago: “She’s acting her little heart out.”) And from the mocking of Goop I’ve read on multiple other sites, I’m not the only one who reads Goop for reasons Gwyneth didn’t anticipate.

My point: Actions may speak louder than words, but we shouldn’t be judged, or marketed to, solely on the basis of our web behavior or even our purchasing behavior. (Someone who buys a baby blanket from Pottery Barn Kids isn’t necessarily someone who should regularly receive its catalogs; the purchase may have been an obligatory, one-off gift by a baby-loathing relative.)

So don’t serve me ads for NRA membership or the American Spectator solely because I read the Mail. And please don’t judge me for reading Mail. I feel dirty enough after each visit to the website as it is.

The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent

If it’s true that mistakes are nothing more than opportunities, then Ben’s Deli blew a big opportunity with a little mistake.

My sister was hosting the first night of Passover this year. She’s a woman of many talents, but none of them have anything to do with the kitchen, so she ordered the entire meal from Ben’s. She’s used Ben’s numerous times before, with no problem.

Until Monday night. She’d been given a several-hour delivery window. Well after the window had been slammed shut, she phoned the company and was told that her food was on the truck and on its way. The person on the other end of line didn’t ask for her name and address, mind you, and in fact didn’t even take down the information when my sister volunteered it. All the orders are on the truck, my sister was told.

And she was told this repeatedly. Because when another foodless half-hour passed, she called Ben’s again. Then again. When she called just before 5 p.m.—several hours after the delivery had been slated to arrive and just minutes before the guests did arrive—Ben’s told her that the food was on the truck, on its way, and sorry, but Ben’s was closing at 5 for the holiday.

At least one of the guests had brought some kugel.

Fortunately another guest (that would be me) had the brilliant idea of ringing not the local Ben’s phone number but the toll-free number. And someone did answer, and upon hearing our tale of woe she got in contact with not only the truck driver but the chief executive of Ben’s, and when she rang us back to give us an update on the location of our food, she said that if need be, said exec would bring us his Passover meal himself. 

Happily the food finally arrived, and while we ended up sitting down at the table 90 minutes or so later than anticipated. True, that hardly compares with having to wait 40 days and nights for a meal. But this was hardly the carefree meal that my sister had paid a premium for.

So here we have a longtime customer who is disgruntled for good reason. Not only was her order delivered unreasonably late, but she was given a run-around for several hours. 

Which means we also have here an opportunity for Ben’s to win her back and regain her loyalty by more than making up for the mishap. Not charging her for the meal would probably be the most magnanimous gesture. If that were too costly, extending a sizable credit for her next order could work. At the very least, a phone call the next day from someone at Ben’s or a handwritten apology from a top honcho, either of which costs virtually nothing, would have been appreciated.

So far she’s received nothing.

Which means Ben’s will no doubt be receiving nothing in the way of future orders from my sister. And from my sister’s guests, and most likely from the myriad people that my sister and her guests will be telling this story to.

Here’s why I find the lack of follow-up on Ben’s part more galling than the original mishap: The late delivery was a good intention gone wrong. Failure to apologize or make amends shows a lack of intention. And I’d rather someone at least intend to do the right thing than not even care enough to bother.

Captive, My Captive

A captive audience has always been appealing to marketers: Think subway-car placards, commercials in movie theaters (not to mention trailers), and on-hold phone messages. So it shouldn’t be surprising that ads are now appearing on those trays you’re meant to dump your shoes, belts, and electronic devices into as you pass through airport security.

I haven’t come across it myself. But at a dinner recently, two friends, both of them frequent travelers, were talking about it. “I just saw them last week, with an ad for some online shoe company on them,” said one. He couldn’t recall the name of the company, but when I suggested that it might have been Zappos, he said it probably was.

If Zappos is doing it, chances are it’s a good idea; in terms of marketing infallibility, Zappos is the pope. Even so, I have my doubts. For one thing, this is hardly targeted marketing, which could be why my friend didn’t remember the brand being advertised. (Apparently he buys footwear as often as I buy swampland in Florida. Or fresh vegetables, for that matter.)

Then, too, amid the anxiety of finding a plastic bag to put all your liquids into because the one you were carrying isn’t quite the right size and of continually checking your watch while the gentleman in front of you holds up the line as he empties a piggy bank’s worth of spare change from his pockets, how likely is anyone to remember the URL on the side of those trays?

And if you did remember the URL, there’s the danger it could have negative connotations by association. Last month I spent a good half-hour trudging through security at New York’s JFK Airport. It was mob rule, with no orderly queues and lots of elbows and pushing and perspiration (and that was just on my part). Short of James McAvoy appearing to whisk me away onto a magic carpet for two, nothing could have made me think of those sweaty, sticky, harried minutes favorably. I certainly wouldn’t want consumers to associate my brand, even subconsciously, with such an unpleasant experience.

Though maybe I’m overreacting. Your thoughts?

The Case of the Suspicious (Non)Spam Message

It’s been less than two weeks since the Epsilon email breach became public, and the initial chatter has faded to a few quiet discussions among the financial and tech media. To be honest, I probably would have forgotten all about it, were it not for an email from one of Epsilon’s clients, The mail arrived on April 5, five days after Epsilon itself had announced the breach.

It’s not the email itself that stuck in my memory—and my craw. It’s that the email landed in my spam box. Every other email 1-800-Flowers sends me—and it sends me several a week, all because I bought one bouquet for my mother-in-law last May—goes straight to my inbox, which I figure is a tribute to the company’s email marketing team.

But for all of 1-800-Flowers’ apparent savvy regarding email list hygiene, segmentation, reputation scoring, and the like, the company’s important customer service email informing me about the breach was somehow unable to find its way to my inbox. Even though the following day another email from 1-800-Flowers (subject line: “Save 40% on Exotic Pink Roses, just $29.99—LAST CHANCE”) made it into by inbox just fine, thank you.

Could it be that 1-800-Flowers intended the breach notification to go directly to the spam box? Or at the very least, that the company intentionally neglected to take the same deliverability measures that it takes with its marketing emails? Most people don’t check their spam folders with the same diligence they do their inboxes. If I were the cynical sort, I just might believe that 1-800-Flowers didn’t want me to know that my data had been stolen.

That the breach message was the only email from 1-800-Flowers to land in my spam folder rather than my inbox strikes me as more disingenuous than coincidental. Yet because it was an anomaly, the message ended up being much more memorable than if it had arrived in my inbox like every other of its emails—which, ironically enough, I usually send straight to trash without reading, unlike the message that ended up in the spam box.