by Jay Johansen | Oct 24, 2003
Everybody I know complains about spam. I don't want to add to the general griping, but there's one thing about spammers that I find quite curious. Namely, they seem to be absolutely convinced that, no matter how uninterested people may be in their sales techniques or their products, if these people would just read their ads, they would buy.
A few months ago I got an email with the subject line "this email for you was accidentally sent to me". I've occasionally received emails that were apparently intended for someone else -- someone was confused by a similar name or clicked the wrong line in an address book -- so I took this subject line at face value, appreciating the courtesy of the sender in forwarding it to me. Well, as you can probably guess from the context of this little story, once I opened it I saw that it wasn't really a good samaritan forwarding an incorrectly addressed email at all, but an advertisement.
Since then I've gotten lots of spam emails with deceptive subject lines: "the information you requested", "reply to your question", "haven't heard from you in a while", etc etc.
And I have to wonder: What do they think this is going to accomplish? Sure, some number of these succeeded in tricking me, and instead of just deleting the email, I opened it and started to read it before I figured out that it was spam. Then I deleted it. Do they really think that just because they tricked me into opening the email, that this is going to make me buy their product? In real life, once I read the first sentence or two and see that it's spam, I delete it. Do they think I'm going to start reading the email and say, Oh, yeah, maybe I want to buy this after all?
My favorite in this regard: I received an email recently with the subject line "rudest teen pornography on the internet!". (I guess "rude" is slang for "really obscene" or some such? I suppose I just don't move in the right circles to know the slang of porn dealers, which all told is probably an ignorance that doesn't bother me a great deal.) As I have no particular desire to buy child pornography, I just went to delete it. But the way I have my email program set up, I have to select an email to delete it, and when I select it, I see the beginning of the message in a preview window. (Yes, I admit it: I find it necessary to make it absolutely clear that I only read this email accidentally, and not because I really was interested in getting some child pornography.) Anyway, when the email popped up, it turned out that it wasn't about obscene photos of teenagers at all, but rather an ad for an internet service provider! And I sat there wondering, Do they really think that somebody is going to look at that subject line and say to himself, Yeah, pictures of some hot naked teen babes, just what I want ... oh, internet services ... well, yeah, wow, that's the next best thing to some really rude pornography, all right!!
Indeed, I would think that an approach like this would make me even less likely to buy their products. Purely aside from the annoyance factor: When the very title of an advertisement turns out to be fradulent, I would have to be very naive to suppose that all the details that follow -- the description of the product, warranty, and so on -- are absolutely true. And I would have to be an absolute moron to do business with someone when I know that the very first thing he ever said to me was a lie.
© 2003 by Jay Johansen