Monday, January 25, 2016

The Renewal Gambit

Many organizations are resorting to "renewal notices" to get you to subscribe to their services or magazines, which often results in you having multiple memberships or subscriptions.

The Automobile Association of America (AAA) often called the "Auto Club" can be a good deal, for some folks, as for about $40 a year, you get free towing, which can come in handy, if you get into an accident.   When we were sitting by the side of the NYS Thruway with a wrecked car, the only question the Police and Towtruck driver had was, "do you have AAA?"

Of course, you can get "towing insurance" from your insurance carrier.  The last time I priced this out, however, it was more than the cost of AAA and there was a deductible.   Plus, AAA provides maps and other ancillary services, which to me, made the service worthwhile.

Other folks are not as impressed, and they raise some good reasons why maybe you don't need AAA.  But that is not the point of this posting.

What I find annoying about AAA is their billing practices.  Not a month goes by we don't get a "AAA MEMBERSHIP RENEWAL ENCLOSED!" mailing that is not a renewal of our existing membership, but a pitch for a new membership and if you are not astute, and you pay the "renewal" fee, you now have TWO memberships in AAA, one of which, of course, is useless.

And of course, when you do join AAA, be sure to join the right one.  There are a number of regional AAA's across the country, and if you join one outside of your region, it may be of limited use to us.  When we moved to Georgia, we renewed our "mid-atlantic" AAA membership, only to realize that it was no good in Georgia, at least for trip planning and other services.

Magazines like to do the same thing - which is probably an indicator of a dying industry.   Just as AOL used "negative option" marketing to sell its services when it was hitting the skids, many dying businesses today are using this "renewal" strategy to sell magazines or memberships.

A relative used to send us Smithsonian magazine - home of "gov't gold" and other crappy deals.   We kept getting "renewal" notices from them as well.

Mark used to get a food magazine, which I got him as a birthday present.  They kept sending us these same "renewal" notices, and we started getting multiple copies of the magazine.  I called the subscription department and they agreed to combine them.  I ended up with a five-year subscription as a result.

Another gambit the magazines like to use is the "Your subscription is about to expire!" gambit, where they offer to "renew" for low, low prices.   However, often these are sent out to all subscribers even though you have years left on your subscription.

It gets confusing and eventually I just stopped responding to all of them and let most of our subscriptions expire.   And we wonder why print journalism is dead.   Maybe toxic marketing is to blame.

Recently, we went through the same thing with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which sells memberships which are partially tax-deductible and give you discounts at some historic sites.  They also send you Preservation magazine which doesn't have ads for "gov't gold" or Staur watches - just yet.

I joined up after visiting a local plantation, and since we are members of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, it seemed like a good fit.   But like clockwork, we got one of those "Membership Renewal" mailers, and I sent off a check with it (they can't do this online?) to "renew" my membership, which of course, was not expiring.

And of course, this week, I get new membership cards in the mail, with a new membership number, and now two copies of Preservation magazine.   You guessed it.  They didn't "renew" my membership, but rather sold me a second one.

Why does this happen?   Well, the membership or subscription departments are often separate from the rest of the organization or in fact, they hire a marking firm to get new members and new subscribers.   And the marketing people realize that these "Membership Renewal" mailings work from two levels.

First, they get existing members paranoid that their membership is about to expire, and they sell a second membership.  Most people are too busy to care and just accept getting two copies of the magazine and two copies of the membership materials.

Second, people who are not members will open the mailing materials because they think to themselves, "Renewal?  I never joined this organization/subscribed to this magazine!  Why are they saying it is up for renewal?" and out of fear or curiosity, they open the mailer which is the whole idea in this era of direct mail marketing, when most people throw away mail. 

"Important Documents Inside!" is another one that pisses me off.   No, the documents are not important and your organization or magazine or newspaper - or whatever it is you are trying to sell me - just went down ten notches in my esteem book, because you have exposed your organization to be a bunch of lying bastards.

It is so true, too.   If someone deceives you to get your business, they have telegraphed that they are deceitful liars and will steal from you in the future.   If you do business with such people - as opposed to honest people - then you will end up helping the dishonest businessman succeed.   The honest businessman will go broke, or have to resort to deception as well.   By doing business with crooked people, you create more crooked people.

So, how do you avoid this problem?  It ain't easy, as the "renewal" notices sent to you often have your name on them and appear to be legitimate renewal notices.

One way is to use the organization's online "membership" site, to renew or check the status of your membership.   Mark on your calendar (electronic) when the membership expires and then go online and renew.   I do this with State bar memberships, for example, which are kind of important.   Once you do this, you can confidently throw all renewal notices in the trash.

Another way, of course, is to just not join or subscribe and this appears to be gaining ground in this day and age.   Subscription services and memberships, when added up over time, can cost a lot of money.   And younger people no longer read print magazines and the like.

And maybe that is why they use this "renewal" gambit.  It is designed to snag confused oldsters, who are the core of their membership.

Very sad!

UPDATE:   In this morning's mail - you guessed it - an "RENEWAL NOTICE" from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.   I am going to let my membership expire.   These kinds of marketing techniques are deceptive.  I hope they fucking bulldoze their historic offices and put up a Wal-Mart.