Update: What is Marriott Thinking?

This is a repost of an entry I did over 3 years ago.  Turns out I missed a litigious opportunity: http://www.newser.com/story/124744/hotel-guest-sues-over-75-cent-usa-today.html

Here’s the story; my original post follows.

Hotel Guest Sues Over 75-Cent USA Today

Hotels shouldn’t provide newspapers unless requested: federal lawsuit

(Newser) – You know those copies of USA Today that sometimes get left outside your hotel room door? Apparently they’re not free, at least not at the Hilton Garden Inn Sonoma County Airport, which one guest learned to his dismay. Now Rodney Harmon has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Hilton chain over the 75-cent charge, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Harmon says he stepped over the paper as he left the room. But a few days later, he noticed a small warning on his key card pouch informing him of the charge, according to the New York Times.

“He did not request a newspaper and assumed it had been placed there by hotel staff,” reads Harmon’s suit, which adds that the hotel allegedly tried to hide the charge by listing it in an “extremely small font which is difficult to notice or read” on the key sleeve. Further, the suit accuses the hotel of an “offensive waste of precious resources and energy,” since newspaper readership is down and most of the papers left for guests probably don’t get read. Though the 75 cents is “a piddly sum,” writes Ben Popken at the Consumerist, “the case could have big implications if it becomes the impetus to sue other hotel chains, since many hotels do just the same thing.”

 ORIGINAL POST FROM JULY 2008 +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


I stayed at the Marriot Springhill Suites in Danbury, CT on Monday night.  I forgot to hand in my key card when I left, and found it in my briefcase today with the rest of my trip detritus.  Take a second to read what was printed about USA Today  on the back of the little envelope that contained the key card.

I didn’t even glance at it when it was handed to me at check-in.  I didn’t read it until I was about to throw it in my recycling just now.  Marriott just stole 75¢ from me!

This is an example of negative option marketing and it is a very bad idea.  It became famously unpopular here in Canada a few years ago when a cable TV company tried to gouge their customers, and the practice is consequently illegal.

It’s especially stupid in this particular instance.  Marriott charged me $209 before taxes for the room.  Was the 0.36% of that revenue that came from this ridiculous newspaper charge really worth pissing me off?  And they don’t even clear the whole amount: part of getting this three-quarters of a buck is administering the small charge in the system, printing these little envelopes (or sacrificing the message that could be placed in the notice’s place), and handling people’s objections when they encounter this foolishness.

Even the wording is dumb.  “I” have NOT requested the delivery.  Maybe if whatever genius came up with this idea had been forced to see it written out truthfully, he or she would have seen the error of their ways:

The newspaper that every halfway decent hotel leaves outside their guests’ rooms each morning is not complimentary at this facility.  It costs 75 cents.  We will be leaving one outside your door even though you didn’t ask for it, and we’ll be adding the cost to your bill.  If you don’t want us to perpetrate this cash-grab, you must take the time to call us and tell us not to steal your money, or go out of your way to check this box, and return this envelope to the front desk.  Oh, and don’t forget that you’ll have to peruse your bill at checkout to be sure that we honoured your request!  Have a nice stay.


What the Heck is That? Part V

In my continuing series 1, 2, 3, 4,  of stabs at advertising “professionals,”  I give you this:

I’ll grant you that anyone who lives in New Brunswick probably can decipher this.  But the region of Miramichi is presumably trying to draw tourists from afar.   And NB’s First Nations place names are already hard enough.  I’m thinking of Kouchibouguac and Magaguadavic (pronounced MACK-a-DAVE-ee), for instance.  Why throw in the inscrutable font factor?

Here’s the whole ad:

Is this man taking a dump?  Is he panning for gold?  Is he “discovering what ‘WE’ know”?  No, he’s FISHING.  That’s what Miramichi is famous for.  Why go to such great lengths to hide it?

So, my righteous self has a problem with this ad on many levels:

1. I know that written-word fonts are all the rage now, but if they become so “human” that they’re unreadable, what’s the point?

2. Print ads should NEVER have URLs in them.  If you want to provide a link in your print ad, include a scannable barcode like this:










3.  “Discover what we know.” is one of the most ambiguous (almost creepy) taglines I’ve ever heard.  What if  “what we know” is how to re-animate the dead?  Or, more benignly, how to pick up things from the water?

4. And the topper is that this ad appeared in the Moncton Times & Transcript, which serves a market where EVERYONE already knows that the Miramichi has the best salmon fishing in the world.  Whom are we trying to reach, here?  Visiting business people who might come back to NB because of a photo of an old guy grabbing something out of the river?  Sheesh.

When a Product Tries to Be TOO “Easy to Use”

<< Sigh. >>

Yesterday, I wanted to transfer all the photos that my daughter has on her digital camera to my hard drive, so she could email one of them to her teacher.  The camera is fairly new to her, so I had never had to do this before.

In my dream world, plugging a camera into a USB port would be the same as plugging in a flash drive — you would see a whole bunch of files, and you could pick the ones that you want to grab.  (Similar to how I wish iPods would work.)

Alas, that is not the case.  As soon as the camera is plugged in, it makes your computer go to a web site to download an application.  You CANNOT retrieve the images from the camera without doing this first.

I already feel like someone’s takin’ me for a ride.

THEN, once you’ve downloaded and installed the app, and even before you have the actual photos off the camera, Kodak asks you to log into facebook.  Did you hear me?  LOG INTO FACEBOOK!!!  I presume they think that everybody wants to share every pic they take, with the entire planet, instantly.  Well I don’t.  And neither does my daughter.

I did NOT log onto facebook, and the Kodak app was mad at me, but let me continue nonetheless.  So I accomplished my goal (eventually).

For a complete neophyte, I can see how this might be a way to help them out.  But it just smells bad.  It’s like if they gave an appendectomy to every human who walked into a hospital.  Sure, you may need one someday, but MAKING you do it isn’t the right way.

Trade Shows – Why Do We Let the Money Walk By?

I was at a Trade Show yesterday, and it was exactly like the roughly 200 other ones I’ve been at during my lifetime.  Sure, there was a lot of stuff being shown, but there was very little trade going on.  Here’s what Messrs. Merriam and Webster have to say about the practice:

Main Entry: trade show
Function: noun
Date: 1895

: a large exposition to promote awareness and sales of especially new products within an industry <a computer trade show>

Note that they’ve seen fit to include “sales” in the definition.  In my experience, very little sales or sales-related activities actually happen at trade shows.  The reasons for this are manifold, and one of the main ones is, on the surface, nonsensical:  the people usually sent to man the booths at trades shows are salespeople.

Salespeople tend to be hunters, while marketers should be gatherers (or even better, nurturers/farmers).  So a sales person would rather track a mammoth 10 km over the tundra for the 5% chance that s/he might stick a spear in some lethal manner into the beast. Marketers should prefer to stay at home and sow the field, pick the fruit, milk the goats, set the snares, collect the eggs, etc.  Both are viable survival strategies: if the marketer gathers enough protein every day to feed the family, or the salesperson kills a mammoth that feeds the family for 20 days, it’s a wash.

But what if you’re at a trade show, and there’s a HERD of mammoths walking straight up the valley?  In my experience, the salespeople are either, a) not “there” because they’re chasing some mammoth 10 km away (whether on their cell phone, or in some out-of-the-way place like the back of the booth), or b) not engaging the herd because their skills are focused on killing single mammoths; not confining, evaluating, flagging, or tracking entire herds of them.  Marketers (at least good ones) see the herd and think, “How can I pick the best ones to send my hunters after?”

The techniques that can be used to overcome these innate behavioural patterns, and actually make going to a trade show WORTH IT, are discussed in the following recorded seminar.

If you would like to hear me talk for 17 minutes about Effective Trade Show Attendance along with some pretty useless PowerPoint slides (hey – I was working for IBM – they DEMAND useless PowerPoint slides), you can watch this presentation.  You’ll have to enter your name and email, but it loads pretty quickly.

What the Heck is That? Part 4

mascotContinuing in the series (1, 2, 3) of inexplicable marketing images, here we have a variation: an inexplicable marketing lifeform.  This is the official mascot for the 2010 IAAF World Junior Track & Field Championships here in Moncton.  You can read all about it here.

It has no name yet; there is a city-wide contest to decide that.  I’m hoping that when it is eventually named, the moniker will give me a hint as to what it’s supposed to BE.

Let’s consider the elements.  The basic body shape appears to be a carrot.  Then there are the bunny ears, a quite shocking sky-blue hue.  Next, the face, which features Bonhomme Carnaval‘s eyes and nose, cheeks that look very chipmunky, a gaping maw reminiscent of the Joker from the Batman comics (not the movies), and a suspiciously lascivious tongue peeking out (but no teeth!)  And there’s an odd strap-like thing that appears to be hold the face to the head.  The appendages appear to be whale flukes, and are the same shade as the ears – it’s odd to see such an abrupt change of color in an animal’s coat, so I guess there is clothing implied.

There is a tonne of great stuff going on in Moncton these days.  We have a mayor who is committed to the promotion of arts, culture and heritage.  We have so far avoided the international economic turmoil.  We stand a good chance of being named the world’s most intelligent community in New York this week.  We have all kinds of regional, national, and international events on the horizon.  And yet the best we can come up with to greet the world’s athletes next year is this mutant vegetable-animal clothes-wearing sexual deviant.


I’m a Mac. And I’m a P.C.*

shuffle* Peeved Consumer.

Yesterday we gave our daughter a new iPod Shuffle.  It was partly to replace the generic MP3 player she used to have that died, and partly to celebrate (another) excellent report card.

So we already had a bunch of MP3s that I had purchased over the past couple of years (yes – purchased).  I blithely thought I could just transfer all the High School Musical, Jonas Brothers, Hannah Montana, and Lenny Kravitz(!) songs from my hard drive onto her new Shuffle.  So I did, then let the four hour charging period elapse.  When we took it off the charging station, presto!  Nothing!

My first thought was that our ancient home laptop (it only has ONE  USB port!) was incapable of delivering the charge to the Shuffle, and that’s why it wouldn’t play.  It never ocurred to me that there was no music there to play, because I could see the files that I had transferred sitting on the thing in Explorer.  So I brought it to work today to try my “real” laptop (SIX USB ports) on the job.  Nope – after four hours, the little “I’m not ready” indicator light was still blinking.

So I broke down and RTFM.  RTFM is short for “Read the f***ing manual,” which is what tech support people all over the world want to yell at DFUs every day.  DFU is “DumbF*** User,” the type of people who often have I.D. ten T problems.  Anyway, page 1 was “Download and Install iTunes.”  And one of the final steps was to “Click Eject before disconnecting” – the Eject button is in the iTunes interface.  I didn’t really want iTunes, since I buy my music elsewhere, had tried iTunes before and didn’t like it, and didn’t think you should need special software just to load files onto a peripheral device.  But whatever – it was for my daughter.

So I dutifully downloaded.  During installation, it made me reboot my machine, which I always hate, but again, whatever.  Upon startup, the wizard asked me if I wanted to automatically import any music file it found the the My Music folder on my machine.  I said sure, because I knew that the only files in the My Music folder were the ones I had just put there for my daughter.  Then I noticed it was actually grabbing EVERY MP3, WAV and other sound file anywhere on my drive.  This includes every Beatles song, a whole bunch of system alerts, a few dozen podcasts, the audio to some of my hour-long marketing lectures, etc.  So I had to spend the next 20 minutes deleting (one by one) every file that wouldn’t be to her liking.

Finally I was ready to push the music onto the device, and the manual helpfully said to click the “Autofill” button, and even had a simple drawing showing me where in the iTunes interface I could find it.  Except it wasn’t there.  Nor was it an option in any of the menus (basic interface design rule:  EVERYTHING should be available through a menu).  I finally found the right screen and the Autofill button, and 2 minutes later was listening to music.

I’m not anti-Mac or anti-Apple by any stretch – the first 4 years of my professional career were spent on Macs, and they were great.  But now I see how this whole zeitgeist that Apple has about simplicity can be annoying.  Sure, the close integration between the player, the download tool, and the store filled with available music is elegant and rich, but what if I don’t want/need one or more of the components?  They each shouldn’t REQUIRE the others to be there.  It’s like saying if I want to drive my Audi, I need to use Audi gasoline and drive on Audi streets.  I predict this model will not last.

The Hills are Alive…

beef-ad1…with the sound of mooing.  This is a full page magazine ad that ran last year in People.  (I was in my doctor’s waiting room, OK?)

What the heck is this?  The “Land of Lean Beef”?!?!?!     Who’s the agency genius that came up with that idea?  And then someone said, “Yeah!  We can build a beautiful landscape out of cooked meat!  Ooh ooh wait – we could make mountains!  With a broccoli forest surrounding them!  And for the snowy peaks we can use some vague whitish sauce reminiscent of semen!”

I LOVE beef.  About the only way you could make it unappealing to me would be to overcook it, make it look really stringy, surround it with the world’s most disliked vegetable, and masturbate on top of it.

Who do you suppose at the Beef Marketing Board gave final approval to this?   I mean, you don’t have to be a marketing expert to recognize an unattractive (almost nauseating) image when you see one.  What was it that over-rode common sense?  Was the aforementioned Stephen Hawking at the ad agency cooing in the beef executive’s ear, “mountains are manly and rugged and strong –  just like what our target demographic of 30 – 49 year old males want  to be.  And since the readership of People is mostly female, and they do most of the food shopping, and they want their husbands to be big and strong, too, it’s a no-brainer!  Cows will be getting slaughtered at a frantic pace!”

From the other end of the quality spectrum, my favourite  bit of meat marketing is from a steakhouse billboard campaign I saw a few years ago.  I can’t remember the brand now, but their slogan was, “There’s plenty of room for all God’s creatures… right next to the mashed potatoes.”

When Did My Cell Number Get Published?

As I’ve mentioned before, I hate the telephone.  However, I actually have a cell phone anyway, for emergencies and the like.  As my stated goal is to never actually use the thing, I believe I have the cheapest plan in the galaxy – $10 per month.  That only gets me about 20 minutes of talk time, but I use it so rarely that in the 15 months I’ve owned it, I’ve banked over 7 months worth of minutes.

Anyway, only a very few people know the number to this little phone: my wife, our babysitter, and a few neighbourhood friends who in the past we have had to co-ordinate arriving somewhere with.  And it’s not listed anywhere that I know of.  I’ve never entered it as contact info anywhere.  It rings (or at least used to ring) so infrequently that I have at times not recognized my own ring tone.  It’s only when everyone’s looking at me with a “Why aren’t you answering your phone?” expression that I realize it’s mine.

But suddenly all that has changed.  In the last couple of weeks, I’ve received about 20 calls on my cell phone.  One, I answered even though I didn’t recognize the number, because it came from my area code — it was a wrong number.  But all the others are from area codes I don’t even recognize like 310, 510 and 909 (all California).  I’ve answered 3 or 4 of them out of curiosity, and as you’ve already guessed, they are all phone spam.  Recorded messages that I don’t listen to long enough to even learn what they want from me.

So I am intrigued as to why it took the spammers so long to find my number.  If there is some computer somewhere trying every possible phone number and flagging the ones that don’t answer with “this line is not in service,” or a fax or modem signal, and it was  just a matter of churning though all the possibilities?  Let’s do some math: there are about 375 area codes in North America, and let’s say that that the average one uses about half of its available exchanges.  So there are 500 × 375 = 187,500 possible 4-digit extensions.  So we have 187,500 × 10,000 = 1,875,000,000 possible phone numbers on the continent. 

If I set up 10 PCs calling one of these possible numbers each every 10 seconds, it would take me 59½ years to try every one.  If I used 100 computers, 6 years.  1000 computers = 7 months.  Is that what happened?  Is there a phone-spam funded server farm somewhere testing possible phone numbers all the time?


WAIT! Are your stupid?

iqI accidentally clicked on a banner ad today and was taken to one of those ubiquitous “Find out if you’re smarter that George Bush” IQ test sites.  They work by taking you through the typical IQ-test-type questions, then asking for your phone number and saying they’ll text the results to you.  Of course, the fine print mentions that they’ll also charge you $3.99 on your phone bill, but whatever.  Some people buy  ring tones – whatever floats your boat.

Anyway, when I hit the Back button to return to the page I had accidentally left, I got this message.  I thought it ironic that the people hosting an IQ test site would have so many errors and inconsistencies crammed into so few words.  (BTW, the average IQ is, BY DEFINITION, 100.)