We are living in a consumption-driven economy, and I do understand that for it to function well people need to buy all sorts of products. As someone who teaches public relations, persuasion, and ethics of communication, I know a lot about various marketing techniques (eg., check out my Door-In-The-Face story here). Some of them I like and appreciate for creativity, but in this story I will focus on the four online marketing tricks that are relatively new but already so over-used that they annoy me to no end. So please buckle up for a rant, if you will.
1. "SOLD OUT!"
Marketers, when you email me a product pitch with "Sold Out!" in the subject line, what are you hoping for? That you will replenish your inventory and stock up your warehouses in the seconds between I open the email and click on the link to your website to make an order?
I am old enough to remember that it used to be "Get yours before it's all sold out!" So when you cut it down to just "Sold Out!", are you (please select all options that apply):
(1) so busy and/or lazy now that you are trying to save time and/or effort on words (yes, I know it's a double-barrel question, but in this instance being lazy or busy is pretty much the same; by including the busy option I'm just giving you a more respectable way out as we live in a polite society)
(2) hoping I'm too stupid to understand that you can't sell a completely sold out product
(3) miraculously holding just one last remaining product, somewhere in your untouchable national reserves, just for me as I am such a special, valued customer
(4) playing on the idea of scarcity, the natural human desire to buy something that is in short supply
(5) other (please specify)_______________.
Why do you have to insult my intelligence and strain credulity like that? At least go back to the tried-&-true "While our supplies last." Sigh.
2. ADVANCE COUPON or SPIN THE WHEEL FOR 10% OFF
When I click on your ad from my Facebook or Twitter page and it takes me to your website, do you really have to get my email address before I get to the product page and decide to buy it? By forcing upon me a popup window that will not go away until I key in my email or by floating a spin-the-wheel to get a 10% discount on the first order that I'm still not sure I'll make, nonetheless? By they way, why does it always land on 10% even though the wheel has many different options, from 2% all the way to the rainbow pot of gold? Or is it just me, a lucky 10% discount customer?
I mean, I understand why you want to get my real email: You will start pushing your other products on me and email me all sorts of marketing messages, even if I opt out from receiving them (as I always do) and you promise not to email me without a good reason or share my email with others. Unsubscribing from your email list will become a major pain in the butt on its own, as you will always be "very sorry to see me go."
I also know you will be selling my email to your business partners and anyone else, really, right and left, to the extent that it may end up on the dark web. As it will be connected to a lot of my other personal information that you will also collect, such as my income, credit card numbers and purchasing habits, I will be at perpetual risk of identity theft and fraudulent charges. As consumers in the digital age, we have become quite tolerant and collectively numb to such risks.
And I understand your drive, I really do: By grabbing my attention once, you want to keep and sell my eyeballs to others, that's the essence of digital marketing. But asking me to give you my email address before I can actually evaluate, try and buy your product is a big commitment nowadays, kinda like asking me to marry you on the first date. Ease off, please! Give me a discount the old-fashioned way, after I buy your first product and like it so much that I'd come back for more. Or notify me of a future sale with a discount code. I won't feel manipulated that way. SMH.
3. POPUP VOYEURISM
This is a term I just came up with for something that happens a lot to me recently. Again, marketers, you are creative, I know, but do you really need to let me know that while I read the specs, description, and reviews of your product, some Linda K. in Nebraska bought 5 units of this exact product 2 minutes ago? Or that Ben O. in Texas bought 10 of them a minute later?
I don't know either of them! Neither do I know why they need the same product in bundles of 5 or 10. Do they have large families? Are they stocking up for the Doomsday? Are they going to resell the product somewhere in China or smuggle it into Russia against the sanctions? Why do you think I need this information? Are you hoping to start a rat race, make me jump on the bandwagon, and again create an illusion of scarcity?
Do you not understand that the fact that someone (who I have no idea is even a real person or your shopping troll) has just bought your product is not really a product endorsement? What if your product is crap and those people will find it out the hard way? For the endorsements, I will go to product testimonials and reviews and start reading the negative ones first, to save me some headache of discovery and time.
All you do by including those popups is annoy and distract me to the extent that I will just click on the "close tab" cross (you will, of course, scream another popup at me like "before you go, check out our special discount!") and leave forever. So, use those popups wisely, please, or better yet, don't use them at all. SMH again.
4. LIMITED TIME TO BUY
Please, please, please, don't turn your counter on the second I put your product into the shopping cart, saying "you have 02:02 min to complete the order." We both know you have your products made to order or in bulk in China or another South-East Asian or Central American country and have no shortages of it. Otherwise you wouldn't be selling it en mass on Facebook.
Also, I know that this is just a gimmick because when I leave my product in the cart without paying and your limited time expires, you start emailing me the reminders to please complete my order. In one instance, I was receiving those every day, multiple times a day until I finally went to your website and emptied the cart without buying the product. I also blocked you as an overly imposing aggressive marketer. Sigh and SMH.
DISCLAIMER: I wrote up this rant because of my most recent experience, where a company selling a skin condition cream I wanted to try managed to subscribe me monthly for the cream that I'd never received, even though I made a one-time purchase, and included something else into the second purchase which I never agreed to in the first place. What was supposed to be a $20 initial purchase (again, I never received the first order I made back in March) turned into a $199 monthly subscription. The company's website had all the bells and whistles that I listed above, which should have been a warning sign for me. Also, when I tried to call the company about my undelivered first order and the monthly charge at the number they listed on my credit card purchase, the phone number was for a Marriott Hotel (!) somewhere in Taiwan.
I had to call my credit card company and report this company as a scam. I am glad that they were diligent about it, conducted a thorough investigation, sent me a report that other people complained about the cream manufacturer as well, refunded the unauthorized charge and issued me a new card. The card replacement was the most frustrating thing as this is my "travel" card I take on foreign trips and I can't use it now while I'm abroad as the new one was sent to my US address.
I'm all for good, wholesome marketing techniques that stimulate my interest in the product, build the product and brand value and develop the relationship of trust between the producer and consumer. I am very suspicious about the ploys similar to the four I've listed above as they treat consumers not as subjects with free will to purchase but as objects with money to spend on their products. When they start bending my consumer free will by manipulating me, I'm out.
If you know of other manipulative marketing gimmicks that people might benefit from recognizing and avoiding, please share them in the comments.