opinion & response

Sep 01, 2002 9:30 PM  By

What’s the Deal?…

John Lenser’s August Small Catalogs Forum article (“Finding Gold in Segments of Dross”) causes me to question whether I understand him correctly. He appears to be advocating that mailers pass rented names against house file segments that they have no intention of mailing as a way to reactivate house names. Is my understanding of his advice correct?

If so, I have been under the impression that this practice is unethical. Has the list industry changed its collective opinion on this practice?
George Hague, catalog marketing manager
Annie’s Attic

…John Lenser Replies

You have the right to mail every name that you have rented or for which you have exchanged. Yet in virtually all merge/purges, the entire house file is placed at a higher priority in the merge, effectively making it a suppression file against lower-priority lists. By allowing a “multi” to be created between the customer file and the outside list, you are simply assuring that you mail a name you have paid for. These particular names will be very responsive.

The Direct Marketing Association’s Guidelines for List Practices states: “A list user and its agents may not transfer names or information to its own customer files or recontact names derived from a rented or exchanged list…without prior authorization.” Therefore, while you have the right to mail this “house/outside list” multi at least once, it is unethical to append information to the customer’s name based on this interaction for the purpose of future mailings.

The phrase “without prior authorization” is very important. You can do anything you would like if you first obtain permission from the list owner. Many companies, particularly large companies, score or create house file models based on the interaction of their customers with outside lists. To avoid any allegations of impropriety, it is key to be up front and obtain permission.


Even if you don’t wear ties, the Lee Allison Co. catalog will have you lusting for a four-in-hand. The high-quality paper and pristine reproduction show off the vivid colors and silk textures of the company’s hand-made ties to dazzling effect. And the copy — well, here’s an example: “A Cary Grant classic. This very subtle two-color check is a fabric known as natté — not unlike an oxford weave in a shirt. Super tasteful. From 10 paces it resembles a solid. You could get promoted in this tie. You could get married in this tie. You could even consummate your marriage in this tie (but only if you ignore our Safety Recommendation).” So fabulous are the copy, the creative, and the ties themselves that we love the catalog despite a particularly hideous typo that appears on every spread: “You can also buy online, where you’ll see our entire collection of 120 hansome designs.”

Former ‘Amazonian’ Turns His ‘Time’ Into Art

What do you do when you’ve given the best 27 years (at least in Internet time or “dog” years) of your life to a dot-com during the fledgling industry’s rise and fall? If you’re actor/author/playwright Mike Daisey, you turn the experience into a book and off-Broadway show. Daisey’s one-man show, 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com, ran in New York from May to July; the book came out in June. Daisey, who started at Amazon.com in 1998 as a customer service rep, details the tumultuous times at the Seattle-based dot-com as the Internet frenzy was heating up. Reviews have called the show “raucous and consistently funny” and the book “a brilliant, honest, and side-splitting account of the strangest company the world has ever seen.” We’re not sure how Amazon feels about it, but you can buy the book on its site.

Games in Catalog Receive Nod of Approval

It’s never too early to get your kids hooked on mail order, and children’s furnishings cataloger The Land of Nod has found a way to get them started: a four-page insert of mazes, Nod-O-Grams, and other games. We realize, of course, that Wheeling, IL-based Land of Nod is going after the parents and merely trying to entertain the offspring, but this could be a savvy marketing strategy. Sure, the space could have been used to sell goods, but the insert is printed on newsprint, keeping costs down (and giving the pages an authentic coloring-book feel). Also, the games may increase the catalog’s shelf life, which is always a plus. But most important, children may peruse the catalog in the process of playing and fall in love with, say, the Pretty in Pink English bedding or the Mr. Roboto rug. If the kids want it bad enough, with the right amount of begging/wheedling, some parents might actually cave in and order.

Martha Makes a Mess

Now that gracious-living guru Martha Stewart has been tarred with a brush of bad publicity in recent months following allegations of insider stock trading, it’s no secret that her company’s stock price has taken a beating. Shares in Martha Stewart Living Omimedia — which includes Martha Stewart Living magazine and the Martha by Mail catalog and Website — tumbled from about $20 in May to a low of $6.25 in early August. The big question: Will consumers still be willing to buy merchandise from the überhostess following the scandal? Maybe not, if a survey from Charleston, SC-based research firm America’s Research Group is any indication. Of 1,000 consumers surveyed by telephone in July, 56% had purchased Stewart-branded products. Of those, 19.7% said they were less likely to buy the items again. One small bright spot: 53% of the survey participants said the scandal would not affect their buying Stewart’s goods. That’s sort of a good thing.

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