Junk Mail Reviewed by Tweet Me Harder
We’ve all experienced the thrill of receiving mail followed by the crushing sadness of realizing it’s junk mail. Marketers are no dummies, however; they want to prolong the former reaction and forestall the latter for as long as possible — preferably until after you have returned the enclosed paperwork and applied for credit from their company. Thus they go to great lengths to make their missives appear “official”, as if dispatched from some Agency of Import or Bureau of Relevance sequestered deep in the bowels of the International Government Totally A Real Thing.
But with more Official Agencies out there than ever, how is anyone to know for sure? In this irregular extension of Tweet Me Harder — the world’s first, best, only, and last talkback-enabled interactive audio podblast — we apply empirical measurement to junk mail to shine Science on spurious claims.
SUBJECT 001-A-5349097-XQU-5: Credit application from Discover®.
The return address is from “Preferred Customer Administration.” Note the subtle flattery. You are a Preferred Customer. Apparently, there is a special division at Discover® Personal Loans that only deals with preferred customers. Also note the euphemism “Personal Loans”, which avoids the term “credit” and its loaded connotations.
DELIBERATELY BENIGN SELF-ADDRESS: 7 points
"UPDATE BASED ON CURRENT ANALYSIS" — an overreliance on thesauri and subsets of a previous phrase’s definition seem to be the hallmarks of junk mail copy. Has anyone provided an update based on outdated information? Hearsay? Is this intended to put the recipient at ease, knowing that Discover® did not fill an envelope with raw data on reams of copier paper for the customer to interpret? That, hopefully, it has been analyzed for the purposes of a fully-current update?
NONSENSE CLAIM TO SIGNIFICANCE: 14 points
Fake rubber stamp reading “IMPORTANT”: imagine a Discover® financial adviser, having carefully considered and personally chosen You, the Preferred Customer, as a candidate for this special offer, stuffing and sealing this envelope with satisfaction. “I hope this offer comes at a good time for this Preferred Customer,” he sighs, inclining a wrist to check a fancy watch below a rolled-up sleeve. “I hope they understand the importance of this information.” Then, taking another long, hard look at the envelope, already emblazoned by stripe and slogan, he rummages through a desk drawer, fingering through a collection of rubber stamps. “Aha!” he crows. Casually but firmly, he presses the stamp onto the kraft-paper surface, leaving the outlined word IMPORTANT shining in red ink in the dim, after-hours light. “That,” he thinks, “should do the trick.”
Can you plausibly imagine this scenario? No? That’s ‘cause it didn’t happen.
FAUX APPEARANCE OF MANUAL HANDLING: 12 points
The black striped line draws the eye to the reverse of the envelope, which yields ten words, when presented in this order, are content-free. There is an “immediate effectiveness” that refers to a request within a timeframe that is not particularly noteworthy. The final three words, “as outlined inside,” seem like verbiage that trickled out after a spigot was closed too slowly — but in fact it is a call to action is for the reader to tear open the envelope, for fear of missing out on a time-sensitive offer. In this, Discover® is guarding against the letter being discarded as junk mail, and thus it reveals a self-awareness. Its only defense is pious condescension: THIS IS SERIOUS BUSINESS NOT JUNK MAIL DON’T EVEN THINK IT YOU IGNORAMUS. YOU DON’T KNOW. WE KNOW.
SELF-CONSCIOUS BRAGGADOCCIO: 6 points
In the letter itself, the designer has attempted to mimic the form of a generated document, but two designerly leanings have spoiled this. One, they’ve selected Futura to be the dominant font. Futura is closely associated with the Discover® brand, but it’s unlikely that any serious literature would be printed in all Futura. (Even the call-outs on the envelope are Futura Condensed — they couldn’t resist!) Two, the “computer-generated” entries of cardmember year, “update status” and “rating” are given in an OCR typeface. There is no reason for this. It’s obvious that they can print the recipient’s name in Futura already. This did not pass through a second printer slaved to the Preferred Credit Assistance mainframe. They did not take a pre-prepared template sheet, with the “Cardmember Since” and other fields blank, and fill it out with your information. And again, it was not rubber-stamped by a human out of concern that the importance of this section would otherwise be inadequately conveyed.
FAUX MACHINE-GENERATED DOCUMENT: 18 points
The “Update Status” field lists the recipient’s status as “Preferred.” One is led to wonder what other possible statuses may exist. Premier? Favored? Partial To? Indifferent? Discouraged? Warned Against? Afraid Of?
One also wonders what other actions could be requested of the recipient: clearly the template form was created with a blank so that any information could be filled in there. Perhaps other letters urge readers to send a fax? Dispatch a telegram? Do nothing, and carefully consider all options? Or even potentially STOP CALLING OUR OFFICE EVERY FIVE MINUTES, WE ARE SERIOUS IT IS GETTING VERY TIRESOME.
Below the recipient’s name is an Invitation Number. This is patent nonsense.
And then the letter opens with the words “Based on a recent analysis, your status has been reviewed and your file awarded our rating of ‘5.0 Superior.’” As a cardholder since 2005 and Preferred Customer with 5.0 Superior status, we wonder if the recipient might see the methodology of the “recent analysis”. A letter to Discover® is in the works.
NONSENSE INFORMATION: 21 points
Discover® posits a scenario in which a $15,000 debt is threatening your life. You can, they promise in both text and flow-chart form, “get out from under that debt with one low $270 monthly payment […] In just 72 months, you’ll have zero debt and zero payments.” In case the point isn’t clear, the international “no” sign is then applied individually to the words “DEBT” and “PAYMENT”. Have we, cynical postmodernites, misjudged Discover®’s motives? Is the financial behemoth actually an altruist, eager to help a beleaguered citizenry take control of their economic fortunes? Let’s do the math:
$270 montly payment x 72 months = $19,440
FAUX BROW-FURROWED CONCERN: 12 points
“ERASE DEBTS” is presented, contextless, in the manner of a poem — something to color the mind and evoke certain thoughts. Helpfully it has been afforded a 1-pt black border to differentiate it from actual dialogue. Otherwise it would look like Discover is shouting at you. It’s kindly unspecific too: not ERASE YOUR DEBTS. Without the box it would appear as if Discover is demanding the recipient erase all debts everywhere. With the box, the words are presented more or less as meta-textual boumas.
NON-SEQUITUR EMOTIONAL APPEAL: 8 points
Viewing the application page header, it’s clear that Discover® has zero standardization in its offices. There are daisy-wheel printers which report your rating (on the first page of the letter itself). There are also rubber stamps. Before an application form goes out, an unnamed clerk must physically write the phrase “5.0 SUPERIOR” in the box made by a RATING stamp. Isn’t this a little inefficient? Couldn’t they save a step by including that rating in the stamp? Or route this form through the mainframe so it could be plastered with your name and cardmember year? How many other ways do they need of doing this?
The only way to make “5.0 SUPERIOR” believable is to expose the other tiers of the program, all the way down to “0.0 IRREDEEMABLE SUBHUMAN.”
Also note that the 4-Step Application is really comprised of four arbitrary larger, Super-Steps. I count no fewer than 25 actual steps.
FAUX MANUAL APPROVAL, MULTI-FACETED: 19 points
“Exclusively for Preferred Cardmembers.” If a Discouraged Cardmember calls up, will they be denied?
MEANINGLESS EXCLUSIVITY: 4 points
Enter your email to “Receive important Account servicing information and other Discover Financial Services offers.” The second part of that is code for “Let us sell your contact information to third parties with their own scammy deals.” Note that there is no way on this form to opt in to the account information while opting out of the other offers.
BRAZEN DOUBLE-FISTED PROFIT MOTIVE DISGUISED AS VALUE: 6 points
TOTAL POINTS: 127
Want your junk mail evaluated? Sent it (yes, physically send it, unopened if possible, in a larger envelope) to:
TMH Junk Me Harder
2554 Lincoln Blvd #214
Venice, CA 90291
If we choose to review your mail, all personal information will be obfuscated.