In the past week or so I have received 3-4 subscription offers from the Smithsonian to take advantage of a “great offer — 3 memberships for the price of 1, just $34! In addition to receiving a subscription to Smithsonian magazine, your gift recipients will receive all the benefits of membership.” It is such a good deal, right? You are getting three subscriptions for the price of one, right? WRONG! I am disappointed, upset, and even angry that they take me and who knows how many more people for a dolt. We would easily fall into their trap and buy three memberships thinking that we are only paying for one. It is, regrettably, not true. Here are the three offers I received via e-mail (click to enlarge): I visited their Web site, followed the links “Subscribe” and “Membership Services” which end up at the same place. Surprise! The membership or subscription which includes membership is only $12. That is the PRICE OF ONE! Not $34. Additionally, there is a free gift, a hat with the payment. Then I followed the link “Give a Gift” to see how much that would cost if I wanted to give a Smithsonian subscription to friends and family. Well, that is also $12 per gift subscription. Here are the screen captures from their Web site on this Thanksgiving Day:
So, let’s do the math. If I buy this great offer for $34 I will get three subscriptions, one for myself and two for friends. If I subscribe on the Web site, with the option of giving (if I wanted to) one subscription as a gift, and still give 2 subscriptions as gifts it will cost me $36 but I will also get a hat! I must give their marketing and research team some credit. They are trying different layouts and copy to see which one will be more effective. In one layout they even include “48% off newsstand price”. But there is a math problem here too. If $12 annual subscription represents 81% off the newsstand price as they claim on their website, the single copy purchase of all the 11 issues would cost $63.16. Then, following with the 48% off claim on the e-mail the price they offer should be $32.84. So, here is how I would grade this effort as a professor of marketing who has taught marketing and marketing research for over 4 decades:
- For creativity, they get a B+ for using distinctly different layouts with different imagery and copy. They lose half a letter grade for one of them being a bit on the tacky side
- For math, they get a D+ for not being able to do very simple math, tsk, tsk!
- For research, they get a C since there are too many variables to measure, the metrics will be very complex to build
- For integrity and ethical marketing, they get an F for outright deception
There is no reason for any company, any organization to lie in order to sell their products. Products you sell with these lies will be short-lived and most likely hurt your long-term relationships with the customers you are trying to get. I will not trust Smithsonian again, and I feel saddened to see such an established organization needing to stoop to lying to sell its magazine subscription.
I will summarize my feelings thusly: Have you no shame! You will receive coal in your stocking instead of a new subscription Smithsonian. Now, will this post or others I wrote along similar lines have any impact on these practices? Most likely not. My post will annoy them even less than a couple of mosquitoes on a nice summer evening in the backyard. But, if we all participate in doing due diligence on any such offers, from any organization, and speak up we may contribute towards improving ethical and socially responsible marketing and marketing research.
To the rest of you, a very happy Thanksgiving. Go easy on the bird, you know I have an affinity to it! You may have heard me telling how the native American bird got named after a country, Turkey. Here is an op-ed from New York Times today giving a detailed explanation of how the bird got misnamed in almost all languages by linking it to an “exotic” country they thought it must have come from. In Turkish, it is called hindi, attributing its origin to India.