Sunday, March 20, 2016

won't get fooled again

Remember that story I wrote about mixtapes last week? Well, let me tell you the story behind the story.

I got an email with the subject "Fun Blog." It was from someone named "Emma Powers." I don't know anyone named Emma Powers. It sounded blatantly fake to me, like the secret identity of a lesser-known superhero. Curiosity, however foolish, got the best of me, so I opened it. It was a note that opened with a few lines of generic praise for my blog. After firing off one or two compliments, the email turned into a sort-of marketing piece about a car rental service in San Francisco. Emma (if that is her real name) mixed personal anecdotes about her own choices of music with renting a car from her company for a road trip. To be honest, her ability to meld the two unrelated subjects was admirable. But, it was still a marketing ploy, and, as a marketer myself, I don't easily fall for marketing ploys — unless they come from Disney. Then, I am pretty much quivering putty. But Emma, while good, was a far cry from Disney. 

I quickly skimmed the email — which went on for several flowery paragraphs about the benefits of her company and the positives of 'NSYNC — until I located the gist of her disguised pitch. There is was, in paragraph three. She challenged me to write a blog post about my musical tastes and what I would choose as the soundtrack for a road trip. Having made her point, Emma summed things up with the corporate-approved-but-friendly-enough valediction "Cheers" followed by only her first name, as though we were old chums.

There's an old warning that I heard back in the days when newspapers were a viable thing. People used to say: "If you put your phone number in the paper, every nut in the world will call you." This was mostly in regards to classified ads. For the most part, that adage was right on the money. My parents were selling a car when I was in high school. My dad placed an ad for the car in the now-defunct Philadelphia Bulletin. The ad included our home phone number and, in addition to legitimate inquiries about the car, we got calls at all hours from every lunatic who knew how to operate a telephone but couldn't string four words together to form a sentence. My email address appears on the homepage of this blog and, just like our phone number in the paper, serves as an open invitation for every person and marketing company to send me correspondence.

I responded to Emma, first thanking her for the email. I thanked her for the kind words and then, in a effort to uncover an ulterior motive, asked  to which one of my blogs she was referring. I hit "send" and waited. Within a few minutes, Emma's reply surprisingly popped up in my "IN" box. She explained that she saw that I have a few blogs, but she had hoped for a post on this one "It's Been a Slice." So, I surmised, Emma was not a "bot." She seemed to now be a real person. So, I replied that I would take a shot at her suggestion and alert her when my story was posted. Again, I received an immediate reply from Emma. She offered thanks and said she was looking forward to reading my post.

I had recently taken a road trip with my family, so I started there and thought back to other car trips I had taken over the years. Satisfied with my little tale, I posted it and I included Emma in the courtesy email I send to my little mailing list when I post a new blog entry. (Wanna be included? Send me an email, like Emma did.)

A few days later Emma replied. Her email opened with this single sentence:
"I love the approach you took - it was so fun reminiscing about the "good old days" of making the original mix tapes!"
The remainder of the email was a multi-paragraph advertisement for her car-rental company, highlighting benefits, competitiveness, pricing and a slew of other phrases that were carefully chosen through a series of extensive marketing meetings. She asked if I would use her company's services again for a trip to Florida— even after I clearly stated that we drove in our own car. She went on to ask "What car would you choose, and why?" Justifying her question with the unrelated: "Like a travel playlist, does your car selection make or break a trip? Have you ever rented a car, only to get a vehicle you didn't prefer?" She capped the email with this direction:
"Let me know when you've had time to make those revisions, and thanks again for your awesome post! I loved reading it and can't wait to listen to some of your favorite suggestions!"
Revisions? Was she kidding? I'm not cub reporter Joshy Pincus and she isn't Perry White. I laughed while I typed this reply:
"While I certainly appreciate your subtle attempt at free advertising on my blog, that is something to which I cannot oblige. That said, if you or your company would like to negotiate a price for me to include mention of your product or services, I'd happily entertain an offer. Until then, my blog post will remain unchanged. Thanks for your interest."
I have yet to hear back from Emma. 

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