Brilliance in Marketing Geeky stuff Religion

Jesus is my sommelier

Inspired by a bit of wit in a conversation this afternoon, I’ve created a blasphemously fun t-shirt I thought I’d share.

Get it HERE.

Brilliance in Marketing

New meanings for “in your area”

I always have a chuckle when companies obviously segment their marketing pieces by state. For example, even though I live in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, CompUSA used to send me weekly promotions for their El Paso store. (El Paso is closer to Blythe, California than Dallas.)

A few days ago I received this email from T-Mobile telling me where they’ve installed new cell towers “in my area.” I’ve marked the drive time (in red) to each of the locations from my house according to Google Maps.

Brilliance in Marketing Geeky stuff Stupidity in action The Junkmail Project

The Junkmail Project: The long, long overdue summary

(Or how nerdiness got the better of me and started my quixotic quest to vanquish the windmills of spam)

If junk mail were worth its weight in gold, I would be well on my way to retirement.

I received 993.2009 troy ounces of junk mail last year, and it’s awfully nice to imagine that it would have been worth $840,992.80 as of January 2, 2008. (And nearly $900,000 as I write this!)

Unfortunately, it’s not even worth the paper it’s written on, so I suppose I should keep making my microscopic monthly contribution to my measly little IRA. In fact, it costs me money, and that’s what got me in this mess to begin with.

You see, sometime towards the end of 2006 I was dutifully doing my part to prevent identity theft by shredding credit card offers and old bills (but mostly credit card offers) when my poor, decrepit, old shredder chewed its way through its last scrap of paper. I could have thought some grateful thoughts about the couple of years worth of obedient service my faithful little appliance gave me, but instead I got angry….

And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

Actually, you probably would. You might laugh. I simultaneously get wickedly sarcastic and diabolically nerdy.

Why was I so angry? Well, I got thinking about how much junk mail costs me. I’m not just talking about the fact that I was out sixty to eighty bucks for another good shredder. I also thought about:

  • How much cumulative time I’ve wasted shredding things
  • Cost of trash bags for the shreddings
  • Environmental cost and landfill space for all that wasted paper and plastic
  • The fact the senders of that junk got a bulk rate discount to send it. (Meaning we all paid for it with our more expensive non-bulk mail … and taxes.)

So yeah, I started counting it up, and I got mad.

I must’ve been pretty angry, because my reaction was the nerdiest thing I’ve ever done. And believe me, that’s supremely nerdy. I played Dungeons and Dragons in middle school, for chrissake. I got so mad, that….

For the entire course of 2007 I weighed every single piece of mail that I received and logged it in five categories:

  1. Account Mail – This is mail that is directly related to accounts I already have. This includes things like the water bill, increasingly thick credit card bills, paychecks, alumni association mailings, and other such things I either asked for or fully expected to receive.
  2. Non-Account Mail – I certainly could have come up with a better name for this category. But I didn’t. This category is essentially for junk mail sent to me by companies with which I already do business. Mostly, these are up-sell offers. Or those damned “access checks” that Bank of America is so fond of sending me on a weekly basis despite the fact that I haven’t used one in six years. Either way, this category is full of junk, but at the time I started breaking these down I figured I’d differentiate between junk I “opted into” as opposed to “pure spam.”
  3. Spam – This category is for mail from companies with whom I do not have accounts — companies who just “spammed” me hoping I’d think their offer was the right one for me. This includes mortgage refinance solicitations, credit card offers, grocery circulars, invitations to join the AARP, and damn near everything addressed to “Current Resident.”
  4. Magazines – Over the course of the year I had subscriptions to just a couple magazines, but the heft of the periodicals quickly outpaced actual correspondences. The dead tree edition of WIRED apparently does kill a lot of trees. Other magazines I received this year included AutoWeek and JPG.
  5. Personal – This category was strictly for correspondences from friends, family and acquaintances. Birthday cards from grandma. That sort of thing.

There’s one thing I didn’t include: Packages. I thought it didn’t make any sense to include books I ordered from Amazon or cheap electronics from Woot in my total. Those items could really skew what we’re trying to measure here, and half the time they wouldn’t be arriving via the postal service anyway. So I thought it best to leave them out.

So each day, starting January 3 (because the mail didn’t run on the first two days of the year) I would slap my mail across a postal scale before I opened it. I’d total the weight of each category and enter it into an excel spreadsheet. Then I’d throw all the junk in an enormous box, and the rest of the “legit” mail would be handled appropriately.

About two months into it I realized that this idea was a wee bit obsessive and insane. But by that point it was too late to turn back. I had already blogged about it, and several of my more “encouraging” friends weren’t going to let me back out now.

Quickly, my box runneth over. By May I was chugging along into my second box and I started to worry that storage space was going to be a serious issue. If anything, though, this certainly illustrated my point about how much waste this enterprise produces. I couldn’t wait to have a big shredding party at the end of the year and photograph myself standing on an enormous pile of shredding-filled trash bags.

As you’ve no doubt noticed by now, this was a one year project that started last January, yet I’m posting this summary the first week of April. Here’s the deal. Shredding that much junk was a more onerous task than I had anticipated. It was a chore. In fact, to be perfectly honest, I haven’t finished yet. I had other, more important things to do. So far this year I’ve spent nearly a month traveling. I had a lot of work to do. I have a yard that would get me kicked out of most homeowner’s associations. (Thank Jeebus my neighborhood doesn’t have one.) So I let it slide.

I also destroyed ANOTHER shredder about a third of the way through this stuff. So I’m taking my time, lest I come up with another stupid project like this one.

By now you’re aching for me to just get to the point and tell you how much mail I got, aren’t you?

Yeah, I thought so.

So what did I end up with?

Just over 68 pounds of crap.

Out of 104.5 pounds of total mail, over 68 of it was pure crap. Stuff I never wanted. Stuff that I would have tossed to the spam filter, if that were possible with snail mail.

More precisely put, I received 30,892 grams of junk mail, out of 47,409 grams of total mail. That’s 65.2 percent.

It’s absolutely overwhelming when you look at it as an aggregate.

If we want to put that into some “real world” perspective, a single dollar bill weighs pretty darned close to one gram. Now, if these people had sent me $30,892 in crisp new Washingtons, I wouldn’t be complaining. (Although my bank might think I’ve taken up a new career if I walk in with a gigantic bag of singles.)

But what they sent me was a little more like this:

Honestly, I’d rather have the gigantic, slimy carp than what I got.

As a whole, damn near two-thirds of my mail was junk, as my patented “Pac-Man Puking a Rainbow” graph clearly shows:

If I had it to do all over again, I would’ve measured differently. I counted things like my bills by the entire piece. Everything within the envelope counted as “account” mail. About halfway through the project I realized that half of the weight of my mobile phone bill was more advertising material. Next time (and believe me there will not be a next time) I would throw those flyers in the “non-account” pile, because I think that would be more reflective of the true nature of this stuff. Advertising materials could very easily be more than 70% of what I received.

I should also mention that this could have been even worse. I received my 68 pounds of crap despite being opted out of “prescreened” credit offers with the major credit bureaus.

What have I learned?

I’ve learned that I get even more junk mail than I had imagined.

I’ve learned that you can’t send a year’s worth of junk through a shredder in one afternoon.

I’ve learned that some companies will send you just about anything, as long as the ROI is positive. (Hey CapitalOne … Bubble wrap? Really?)

I’ve learned that it can be a royal pain in the ass to try to prove a point.

With all of that said, there are a few things you (and I) can do about this, and I’ll devote an entire post to those in the semi-near future.

Until then, watch out for paper cuts and keep your shredders set on “stun.”

Brilliance in Marketing The Junkmail Project

Wait a minute, Mr. Postman!

Wait a minute, Mr. Postman!

Junk email gets a pretty bad rap, the vast majority of that well deserved. You see commercials for companies like AOL and Earthlink bragging about their spam protection systems. Yes, it’s a nuisance for most consumers, and nightmare for systems administrators. But have we completely forgotten its direct ancestor? (Today Merriam Webster might call them “consanguineous.”) How much do you really hear about junk snail mail? And what is your post office doing to protect you from it? As much as your ISP?

Towards the end of 2006 I cleaned up my home office and carried a couple of bags worth of grocery circulars and shredded credit offers to the curb, and it got me to thinking about how much waste the direct mail industry produces, be it pure junk, or even just upsell offers from companies with which I already do business. This year, I’m conducting a little experiment to see just how much junk mail gets shoved into my box on the street. I bought a postal scale so I can weigh all the mail as it comes in and track it in an Excel spreadsheet. There’s only one thing I’m excluding to keep from skewing the results: Packages I’ve ordered from retailers that are delivered directly to the house. Most of those come via FedEx and UPS, so the issue’s pretty much moot anyway.

As I write this, it’s early morning on January 17th. There have been 11 days so far this year with mail delivery, and three non-Sunday days without mail due to two national holidays (New Year’s and MLK) and one day of national mourning for the passing of President Ford. How much have I received so far?

What Have I Got?

If you look at the pie chart above, you’ll notice that it looks remarkably like Pac Man puking up a rainbow. Granted, that observation doesn’t really explain much (about the mail) does it?

Here are the piles I’m stacking the incoming mail into:

  • ACCT — Mail regarding accounts I have with companies
  • NON-ACCT — Junk from companies with which I have accounts
  • SPAM — “Pure spam” from companies I have no existing business with
  • MAGS — Magazines
  • PERSONAL — Personal correspondence

So, with those categories in mind, you can see that our little Pac Man is composed entirely of “pure spam” — and he makes up roughly two-thirds of all of the mail I’ve received so far. Considering that some surveys say that two-thirds of all email is spam, it will be interesting to see if this trend holds up over time. If it does, it might poke holes in the theories that “pay-for-play” systems could help curb the tide of spam.

If you look at the numbers on Pac Man, you’ll notice that I’ve already received over a kilogram of spam. 1.2 kilos, to be more precise. Why am I measuring in the metric system when the post office uses the good old fashioned imperial system? Well, because I’m lazy and the math is a lot easier. For those who aren’t sure how much that is and are too lazy to look it up themselves, it’s about 2.7 pounds.

Anyway, put subjectively, it’s “a lot.”

If you look at the growth over time (the scariest view, IMHO), it looks like this:
Watch it Grow

I look forward to seeing how this project evolves. I’ve already told you a little of what I hope to learn from this. What about you? Anything you’re curious about? What sort of things would you like to see me comment on in future updates?

Brilliance in Marketing Politics

Lame holiday gift idea #576

Stupid stocking stuffer idea

This is the start of an ad that was in an email I got today from the North Texas Tollway Authority.

I’m not sure what’s crappier, the mere concept of a TollTag as a stocking stuffer, or the suggestion that it’s okay to be a cheap bastard and just “get someone started on the road to savings with a new account.”

I dunno, but to me that feels just one step short of saying, “Merry Christmas! I filled out one of those credit card applications you got in the mail for you!”

Note to family and friends: This is not what I want for Christmas.

Note to federal, state and local governments: Cut this crap out. We’re not your consumers or customers, we’re your citizens. Also, a toll road is a (sometimes) necessary civil project, not a luxury good.


Okay, the more I thought about it, the above post seemed really crabby, and while I don’t take back a word I said (yet) I do think it’s only right to provide a little positive balance. I’ve been watching a lot of My Name is Earl lately, and I think Karma would appreciate it. So, below is a link to what I think is an example of honest-to-God GOOD marketing of an actual luxury good. (And note to the family: This makes an excellent stocking stuffer idea!)

Brilliance in Marketing Cars Photography Politics Sports

Kinky for Crew Chief!

Actually, I think he’d prefer you vote for him for governor. You’ve gotta respect a candidate who knows where he’ll get the most bang for his campaign dollar in this state. (He also sponsored a Silverado in the truck race, too.)

More pictures from Friday:

Brilliance in Marketing From the hip

Bill Smith: Merchandising genius

Seriously? Kids think quality control methodologies are fun?

I must be getting old and out of touch.

Brilliance in Marketing Food From the hip

There should be a law!

Ever since I started working odd hours from home there is one thing that has come to irritate me more than anything: Food commercials for items that are impossible to buy at the hour they’re advertised.

The classic example of this is is the Braum’s ad that always manages to find its way into the 8th inning of a Rangers game just as all of their local stores have closed. That kind of taunting is just cruel.

Today I’m watching Godknowswhat at 4:30am while I’m trying to finish up some website code and I’m distracted by an ad for Ruby Tuesday’s new “Triple Prime” burger.

I have no complaints about the burger. I haven’t had one, but if the thing is only one fifth as good as it looks on TV (which one would think to be a reasonable standard) then I’m sure it’s sinfully devine. The idea alone is pure genius. According to their website this burger is “Fresh 100% USDA prime ground beef with prime tenderloin, prime ribeye and prime sirloin blended and grilled to make the finest premium burger.”

Three different cuts of pure red meat? This thing will do for burgers what slapping three blades on a razor did for shaving. I will probably find a way to indulge myself in its greasy goodness next time I end up in Bedford, the nearest city with a Ruby Tuesday.

But for the love of God, it’s pure torture putting this commercial on at 4:30am!

Wimpy, Wimpy, lema sabachthani?

Looking in my fridge I think I’m going to have to settle for Kool-Aid and a granola bar. Talk about disappointment…

Cruelly tasty-looking Creative Commons photo by graciepoo found on Flickr

Brilliance in Marketing Stupidity in action

Must’ve been a brain freeze?

If you’re going to be making up words in your advertising campaign, you probably ought to take extra care to check all of your non-joke copy. People will actually take the extra time to read it all looking for something funny. In this case, it turned out to be unintentionally so. I wonder how many million of these table card displays Wendy’s printed without noticing the typo.

Frosty ad
Brilliance in Marketing Cars From the hip Internet Religion

Sign in the VW dealer service shop

Remember my previous post about the pope’s VW selling on eBay? Well, VW decided to make a clever ad poster based on the sale. Well done.