Another triumph of automated marketing!

automated marketingHapless automated marketing abounds. Here’s an email I received this morning:

Subject: Love Your Content (Collaboration Proposal)
“My name is RJ, I am the main editor at [a website about car care].

I just wanted to send you a quick email to let you know that we recently released a comprehensive blog post on “How Much!? Replacing A Catalytic Converter”.

While browsing your site, I noticed this page

I believe our piece would be a great addition to your page.”

RJ “believes” his/her post would be “a great addition” to this post:


I am receiving more and more hapless automated marketing efforts like this: no careful thought, no subtlety, no serious attempt to check that the target might be relevant to the pitch.

Just spray and pray.

Perhaps some “marketer” thought that instead of just scraping page titles that mentioned the phrase “catalytic converter” (which might make more sense) they could increase the volume of useless mass emails (and extract more money from their client?) by expanding their target search to anyone who mentions the phrase anywhere on the page.

The only reason my post mentions “catalytic converter” is as an example of what the word “catalyst” means. Otherwise, it has as much in common with RJ’s content as a toothbrush has to a lunar eclipse.

Compare this waste of time and resources with an example of marketing done right.

Experienced and respected marketers have told me that expanding your email list is crucial to getting your message across, and I believe them.

But finding and/or creating the right email list are clearly crucial too, and every misdirected pitch I get like this one gives good marketers a black eye.

Please stop it guys!

Image attribution: Flickr user pnglife

“Dear Valued AT&T Customer”

Dear Valued AT&T Customer

“Dear Valued AT&T Customer”. Just received this email from “AT&T Chief Privacy Officer” <>. It’s a good example of a weasel apology.

The letter

Dear Valued AT&T Customer,

Recently there was an issue that affected some of our customers with AT&T 3G service for iPad resulting in the release of their customer email addresses. I am writing to let you know that we didn’t expose any other information and have resolved the matter. We apologize for the incident and any inconvenience it may have caused. Rest assured, you can continue to use your AT&T 3G service on your iPad with confidence.

Here’s some additional detail:

On June 7 we learned that unauthorized computer “hackers” maliciously exploited a function designed to make your iPad log-in process faster by pre-populating an AT&T authentication page with the email address you used to register your iPad for 3G service. The self-described hackers wrote software code to randomly generate numbers that mimicked serial numbers of the AT&T SIM card for iPad – called the integrated circuit card identification (ICC-ID) – and repeatedly queried an AT&T web address. When a number generated by the hackers matched an actual ICC-ID, the authentication page log-in screen was returned to the hackers with the email address associated with the ICC-ID already populated on the log-in screen.

The hackers deliberately went to great efforts with a random program to extract possible ICC-IDs and capture customer email addresses. They then put together a list of these emails and distributed it for their own publicity.

As soon as we became aware of this situation, we took swift action to prevent any further unauthorized exposure of customer email addresses. Within hours, AT&T disabled the mechanism that automatically populated the email address. Now, the authentication page log-in screen requires the user to enter both their email address and their password.

I want to assure you that the email address and ICC-ID were the only information that was accessible. Your password, account information, the contents of your email, and any other personal information were never at risk. The hackers never had access to AT&T communications or data networks, or your iPad. AT&T 3G service for other mobile devices was not affected.

While the attack was limited to email address and ICC-ID data, we encourage you to be alert to scams that could attempt to use this information to obtain other data or send you unwanted email. You can learn more about phishing by visiting the AT&T website.

AT&T takes your privacy seriously and does not tolerate unauthorized access to its customers’ information or company websites. We will cooperate with law enforcement in any investigation of unauthorized system access and to prosecute violators to the fullest extent of the law.

AT&T acted quickly to protect your information – and we promise to keep working around the clock to keep your information safe. Thank you very much for your understanding, and for being an AT&T customer.



Dorothy Attwood
Senior Vice President, Public Policy and Chief Privacy Officer for AT&T

Please do not reply to this email.

© 2010 AT&T Intellectual Property. All rights reserved. AT&T and the AT&T logo are trademarks of AT&T Intellectual Property.

Four comments

Has AT&T invented mind-reading software that can determine peoples’ intent?

The email asserts that the people who obtained the email addresses and ICC-ID “maliciously exploited” AT&T’s failure to secure private information, “deliberately went to great efforts”, and “distributed it for their own publicity”. Smearing people by assigning them ulterior motives for which you have no evidence is an old propaganda trick. It helps to deflect attention from your own culpability.


Speaking of culpability, AT&T apologizes “for the incident and any inconvenience it may have caused ” but not for their negligence in setting up a system that allowed public access to private information in the first place. Come on now, AT&T, you can do better than that. How about: “AT&T apologizes for the lapse in our security that allowed this information to be obtained”? That’s what a proper apology looks like.

What are the consequences?

AT&T provides no explanation as to the consequences of publicizing my ICC-ID. I don’t care about my exposed email address, since anyone can easily find it on the internet. (Though I imagine that some people are not pleased that AT&T exposed their email address.) But I have no idea what the ramifications are of exposing my ICC-ID to all and sundry. What should I look out for? Telling me to “be alert to scams that could attempt to use this information to obtain other data” is useless pap.

Breaking trust

We should judge people and organizations by what they do, not what they say. Those who say things at odds with actual actions, break trust. I don’t expect perfection, but the fact that AT&T avoids admitting that they screwed up makes me skeptical that “AT&T takes your privacy seriously.” Or that I can “Rest assured, you can continue to use your AT&T 3G service on your iPad with confidence.” Well, AT&T, I’m not assured.

Frankly, receiving this email reduced my trust and opinion of AT&T. It would have been better for them if they had never sent it.