This Is Convenience?

My wife received a postcard the other day. Return address was Magazine Direct Inc., Salt Lake City. Spartan white with anonymous black type. Presorted postage rate. Looked like junk mail.

I happened to read it first. “Thank you for being a valued customer. We hope you have been enjoying your service, as your complete satisfaction is our goal.” Still sounded like junk mail.

And then…

…the text got more intriguing–and more sinister: “For your convenience, we will continue to ensure that you don’t receive extra unwanted mail–the multiple renewal notices and bills that normally come with a subscription. For the next term of issues the credit card you previously provided [Huh?] for your selections will be charged annually for National Geographic Magazine, at $34 for 12 issues. [Um, say what?]

“If you do not wish to continue, call 866 560 9273 by June 29 and no charge will appear. As long as you are satisfied, your selections will continue through our open-ended, customer-friendly subscription method–continuous service. Of course, we will always send you a courtesy reminder before you are ever billed to ensure your satisfaction…”

I read all this to my wife. She replied: “Isn’t that illegal?” I’m guessing not, but it certainly does stink. It’s blatantly deceptive, for one thing: There’s no superficial clue that the mailing represents National Geographic and concerns a potential financial commitment. Second, it’s classic (and pretty evil) opt-out marketing–except instead of sending us spam unless we say no, they’re going to bill us.

How much damage does a communication like this do to National Geographic’s reputation, to the trust it has established with readers? It’s unthinkable that the society would have knowingly consented to this sort of tactic.

Or maybe it did. In any case, National Geographic loses. We cancelled our subscription that day.