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An unwelcome email marketing tactic


A marketing email from Dell caught my eye amongst all the inbox content because of the subject line: “Was it something we said?”

Curiosity piqued, I clicked on it to open it, and saw the eye-catching image you see above.

The mixture of garish colours and popping eyes of the model really grabbed my attention, almost making my heart skip a beat. Whoa! I thought. What is this?

Then I was taken aback when I read the text alongside the ‘Shock, horror!' title:

Can we take a minute of your time? It's just that it seems you haven't opened any of our recent emails.

Wtf? I thought to myself. How does Dell know I haven't opened an email?

That's the question I asked on Twitter when I posted the image.

It quickly turned out that asking such a question was exposing my naivete about current email marketing practice, as my Twitter community was quick to point out.

Tim Almond:

the old single pixel request thing…

Rob Clark:

html email with a uniquely named 1 pixel gif is my guess.Server gets a request for that pixel,they know you looked at the email.

Mike Keliher:

Knowing whether someone opened an e-mail is a common feature of e-mail audience/campaign management software.

Tim again:

I use thunderbird which allows you to block requests for image from senders. So, if I get some junk, they don’t know.

More from Mike:

I can also tell whether a person forwarded the e-mail and to whom. I haven’t done the creepy "why aren’t you reading?" though.

I commented back along the lines that I consider this behaviour as spying and dislike it a lot.

Which prompted this from Mike:

that e-mail is pushy. But the "spying" thing isn’t Dell’s fault. That’s a standard function. How it was used is Dell’s fault.

And from Tim:

I tend to agree - it’s the sort of thing that makes people uncomfortable.

Tim added:

I think other companies do similar tracking, but don’t write in ways that make it obvious that they’re tracking you ;)

PaulieA said this:

all email marketing software tells the sender if the email has been opened…bit sinister i guess, but that’s how it is

And Donna Papacosta:

That being said, I don’t think I would email the customer a 2nd time saying "Hey you didn’t open the previous message."

I think Donna's final comment resonated the most for me.

Things like 1-pixel GIFs that phone home and email marketing software that, unknown to you, tracks you are one thing (two, actually).

As PaulieA said, that's how it is. Whether it makes me the customer feel uncomfortable or not is neither here nor there, I guess.

Maybe it's the approach in Dell's email that offends me, the wording that in one way or another says “We're watching you and what you do on your computer, and you won't know about it — unless you don't open our emails, and then we're gonna jump on you.”

I'm disappointed that it's Dell I'm writing about in this post. I've got to know many Dell people over the past few years, because of social media. I like and respect them.

This email and the distasteful email marketing employed clearly is from another part of Dell.

What I'll call the anti-social media part.

Suffice it to say that Dell marketing emails now go to the spam filter.

[Later] Reading through this post after publishing it, I was struck by one of Tim Almond's comments, about his using Thunderbird that lets you block images in emails.

I use Outlook which lets me do exactly the same thing. I have such image-blocking set as the default.

However, I can allow images in email to get through automatically from companies and individuals I classify as trusted.

Dell is one such company.

Not now the anti-social media part, though.

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