January 24, 2008

Ann Curry And The Today Show Feature The Cute Kids Cancelling Catalogs

If you were at work this morning when The Today Show featured a piece on how to cancel catalogs, please watch the segment here.

Ann Curry sat at a computer monitor, and opted-out of Red Envelope, Pottery Barn and Mrs. Fields catalogs.

Kudos to Catalog Choice and those cute kids for getting attention via grass roots efforts. This goes to show you how individuals and small teams can make a difference. How things get done in this world is rapidly changing ... Catalog Choice provides a great example of how to market a useful service via social media, illustrating how mainstream media does the work for you when social media is executed properly.

Catalog Choice reports that they've had an onslaught of traffic today. Ted Wells reports that 500 visitors an hour are checking out his blog.

The Today Show, via their website at MSNBC, is challenging all schools to do what the cute kids accomplished. Here is a link to the Today Show Challenge.

Of course, there's some level of irony involved in having NBC and The Today Show take shots at companies like Red Envelope, Pottery Barn, and Mrs. Fields.

When I ran Ann Curry's video on the MSNBC site, I was subjected to unsolicited advertising from Best Buy, I could not fast-forward over the ad, MSNBC forced me to watch it. I might have wanted to opt-out of that advertising opportunity, however, I could not.

Here's a sampling of the national companies that pay the salaries of employees of The Today Show via unsolicited commercials I did not have a choice to opt-out of while watching the program in real-time this morning:
  • Honda, Smuckers, Hyundai, Pillsbury, Olay, Air Wick, Dannon, Clorox, Turbo Tax, Slim Fast, Pampers, Cheerios, Kashi, Olive Garden, Progresso, Oreo, Bank of America, Head and Shoulders, Nestle, Lysol, Visine, Capital One.
Obviously, I cannot speak to any details on the practices of these companies ... I am simply hopeful that all of these companies don't over-harvest trees or mis-use fossil fuels to produce the products, services and packaging that paid the salaries of the folks bringing us The Today Show, the show that promoted Catalog Choice.


  1. Isn't it ironic? Unsolicited mail is despised, but other unsolicited ads are completely expected and tolerated.

    Perhaps one day the whole world will be one big "opt-in" utopia, where consumers will only solicit product info they want. No unsolicited advertising will exist, in ANY channel. Yeah, right...

    Look at it this way, catalogers are on the cutting edge of listening to customer preferences. That's a great thing!

  2. Anonymous6:41 PM

    Maybe it's me, but Kevin seems to be the ONLY one around vocally promoting the benefits of catalogs. Many consumers (especially those who live in rural areas) enjoy receiving and shopping from catalogs. Where are the DMA and other industry organizations when you need them? We need them to stand up to Catalog Choice, or at least hold an intellectual debate. We better start speaking up quick, or catalogers will soon be held in the same regard as tele-marketers.

  3. Anonymous, thanks for your comments, the first of that nature left on this blog.

    I'll make my position very clear. I admire Catalog Choice for what they've accomplished, and completely accept that our industry failed to make it easy for customers to opt-out of catalogs. Catalog Choice, regardless of their agenda, made this easy for customers, so kudos to them.

    Second, I've been in the catalog industry for nearly 20 years, though I am one of the younger individuals in the catalog industry. The catalog industry grew and thrived on the wallets of the Baby Boom generation.

    The Baby Boom generation thrived in an environment controlled by direct mail, newspapers, radio, malls, and television.

    And all of a sudden, in the past five years, the "rules" changed. Catalogers were loved for not pumping automobile pollution into smoggy cities, now they are becoming despised for harvesting forests (which, if I may be so bold, can be replanted ... a bit different than the coal that is harvested to run the electricity that fuels the servers that run the opt-out services of some companies).

    At the same time that customer sentiment changed, catalogers gave up control over prospecting activities to co-ops, so now co-op statisticians actually determine who receives unsolicited catalogs.

    Couple those facts with the reality that customers now shop online, rendering catalogs "old fashioned", and you end up with industry-wide catalog leadership that is looking at an industry that is nothing like the one they were raised in.

    Take the DMA. Five people working out of a garage get 450,000 people to opt out of catalogs. What can the DMA do? They used old-school techniques, issuing press releases that their own service is now competitive, but who pays attention to their press release ... at best catalog industry executives, not customers. Meanwhile, Catalog Choice is aligning themselves with bloggers and grass-roots PR, and those grass roots activities pay off long-term.

    Our catalog industry leadership, in my opinion, is paralyzed by a world that looks nothing like the world looked in 1985 when cataloging was beloved by Baby Boomers.

    For those reasons, I think the catalog world is just laying low, staying quiet, hoping things naturally evolve in a manner congruent with the past.

    What we need is the exact opposite approach. I don't think the leadership of the catalog industry have this in their DNA.

    At least that's my theory.

  4. Anonymous5:41 AM

    Suzanne fails to realize that unsolicited mail AND unsolicited ads are despised. Hence, the anti-pop-up, anti-ad features of various software. Cable television channels offer a way to opt out of television ads.

    But on to the discussion of catalogs and consumers. I used to love catalogs. Back when I didn't get 50 a week. I think the DMA and catalog merchants vastly underestimate how much animosity they produce by blanketing consumers with these expensive marketing ploys. It's bad marketing to alienate customers. The DMA's efforts to demonize attempts to stem the flow of catalogs are leading consumers to a high level of distrust about DMA's motives. Catalog companies are already held in the same disregard as telemarketers. Wake up, catalog companies.

  5. Hello Anonymous, thanks for your comments.

    What is your solution to the problem? In other words, maybe a catalog CEO sits down with you and explains that if she followed your advice, if she "woke up" as you say, and mailed 70% fewer catalogs, she would be out of business.

    How would you perform the role of a brilliant marketer, giving this CEO a way out of her problem (i.e. she's out of business if she follows your advice) while still fulfilling your goals and interests?

  6. Anonymous6:38 PM

    Depends on whose problem you want me to solve. My problem is merchants sending me volumes of unsolicited mail, and continuing to do so even after I have asked them to stop. The CEO's problem seems to be based on relying too heavily on one (bad) marketing scheme.

    If the CEO is sincerely asking for my input as a customer, I do have some ideas for how she can improve her public relations and avoid going out of business. You only need to read comments on the blog at Catalog Choice to understand how deeply and for what reasons people are unhappy with receiving volumes of unsolicited, unwanted mail. You'll also see there many people who now refuse to buy from companies that have refused their opt out requests. Our CEO's marketing scheme is actually and actively losing business for her, even with people who have purchased her goods.

    You don't say where your figure of 70 percent comes from, but if that is actually the number of people who are requesting to be taken off catalog mailing lists, then I'd say the blanket catalog mailing scheme has already failed dismally. I would advise the CEO to think like a customer, ask customers what they want, and seriously evaluate whether advice to ignore certain opt out requests is wise. You don't get repeat customers by alienating them. She needs to honor opt out requests however they come to her.

    Many catalog merchants have a convenient way on their websites to opt out of advertising email. Our catalog CEO can provide a convenient button on her website for people to opt out of receiving catalogs. Easy, free, no request for credit card numbers. To ensure she's getting correct information, she sends an authorization email request to the person's email. All automated; all cheap.

    Here's an idea that I'm surprised catalog merchants haven't used, rather than sending an expensive 74-page full color catalog, if they can't think of any other way than unsolicited mail to get business -- send a beautifully designed postcard with instructions about how to opt IN to receiving catalogs. Much less expensive, less environmentally unsound, less annoying... and think of the public relations boost.

    But I'm not a marketer -- I'm certain that real marketers, even less-than-brilliant marketers, can come up with dozens of ways to market that don't alienate people. Put their minds to ways to make this a win-win situation.

  7. One of the hardest challenges a catalog CEO faces is in other marketing strategies.

    Because cataloging has been around for more than a hundred years, most strategies have been tried. The postcard idea you have is a good one, one that intuitively, a person would believe would work. Sadly, it is a money loser. I've tried it many times!

    And at this time, the number of folks opting-out via Catalog Choice ends up being less than one percent of the folks that a catalog company mails. That alone is a reason why a catalog company should partner with Catalog Choice.

    Long-term, the catalog company will drive customers online, and will eventually do it with a lot less paper in the mail. It will just take a while for the numbers to work out in a way that allows the employees of a catalog company to keep their job.

    Thanks for your feedback, I appreciate it!

  8. Anonymous7:44 PM

    You're welcome, and thanks for your comments.

    You don't mention, though, what you think the solution is. What's the solution to customers opting out of purchasing from merchants who annoy them?

  9. A cataloger (in my opinion) should let customers opt-out, and should honor all requests, regardless of source.

    A cataloger could (though this would seriously harm the profit and loss statement, and would cost a lot of people jobs) allow customers to determine how many catalogs they want to receive (i.e. 4 per year instead of 24 per year).

    Long-term, cataloging will be a craft that is practiced only to customers who have previously purchased, and want to receive catalogs. Between now and then there will be a lot of pain for catalogers. Unfortunately, most customers will not go to a website and purchase if the catalog is not mailed to the customer. Someday, this will change.


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