Jun 3, 2012

This is not what I do.

My dad got this piece of mail a while back.  Name and address in typewriter font.  Cow stamp.  No return address.

Inside is a post it note from a friend who signed his note “J” – or maybe that’s just a squiggle.  From the fact that they use a typewriter, prefer Texana on their stamps and still send people newspaper clippings, we can guess that J is an older man or woman.

It’s stuck to a newspaper article from the Financial News section of the paper on Sunday, March 25, Page 3-B.  (The mailing was postmarked March 28, so this is timely.)

The article is about a book that purports to help people like my dad who are over 50 and facing a higher retirement age than they expected.  But of course….

It’s actually an ad.  But this isn’t even an advert placed in a paper that was later cut out; it’s a special printing made to look like it was taken from a newspaper.  This is a piece of junk mail, and it’s made to trick people into reading it instead of throwing it away.

This is not the same as a story artifact – or at least, not the kind I make.  The difference is the same as the difference between telling a story and lying.  This piece of media lies about who your interlocutor is.  It lies about the source of the information; it even lies about the main purpose of the ad copy.  I blurred out their 1-800 number in these pictures, and I would have blurred out the name of the author who wrote the “book,” but it turns out that information isn’t even in the article.  It’s on the cover in the picture, but the name is so tiny I can hardly make it out.  This isn’t even a book promotion; it’s a ploy to get you on the phone.

A real story artifact would name names.  There would be a newspaper title at the top of this page, a URL to the author’s website, and maybe even a bio or photo of the person who wrote it.  (This one is credited to “Steve Williams” who I like to imagine as a cooler cousin of Buck from the Left Behind books.)

The reason this isn’t what I do, why I wouldn’t lie in this way, is that this kind of lying doesn’t engender love or trust.  The point is to trick you long enough to get you to answer the call to action.  One person claiming to be J says that the mailings are a way to open dialogue with local financial planners, but would you feel comfortable starting any professional relationship this way?

…But if I Did….

But if I were to lie to people in this way, I’d have done a better job at it.  Let’s take a look at some details.

The interior edge of the page, the one that would contain copy from another article if this were real, is torn rather than cut, but it’s torn the way someone might tear it with a sharp edged ruler.  People either cut out articles with scissors, or tear them by hand.  The best way to finish this would probably be with a rough patterned tearing edge.

Blugh, this headline.  It’s got quote marks, all caps, AND underlining in it, and it ends in an ellipsis and it takes up four whole 3-column lines!  The AP stylebook would come to life and bludgeon me to death all on its own if I wrote a headline like this.  (We know it’s supposed to be a newspaper article and not a newspaper ad that looks like an article, because those kinds of ads are usually in a box with the word “advertisement” at the top.)

But really, the biggest giveaway here is the back of the page.  Those ugly artifacts are from scanning in a printed page and printing it back out.  It doesn’t match the printing style of the front of the page and it’s a pretty clear sign that its a fake.

You can see another version of this junk mail (and read from others who got this around the country), at Lisa and Michael‘s blog.


Comments (2)

  1. Jun 4, 2012
    Ariock said...

    In the 90s, my (now ex-)wife got a letter very similar to this one. Same lack of return address, same post-it but with, “Try this! It works! -J”

    However, instead of a fake financial newspaper, it was a fake magazine ad. So glossy paper. I don’t recall now what, if anything, was on the back. And the “article” was for a weight-loss product.

    I know there are a lot of people out there who have body image issues, and my ex was no exception. The fact that it looked like an actual person she knew might have sent that to her was mortifying. She felt terrible. IIRC I think I was able to do a search online (probably with Altavista) and figured out that it was a scam.

    But yeah. This is terrible. I almost feel like it ought to be a kind of fraud. But I see how that might be problematic.

    • Jun 4, 2012
      Haley said...

      I am sure the real victims here are the people who bought these advertising packages. They appear to come from a company called Insurance Selling Systems, and I’ll bet you $5 they don’t give those “free” books to businesses for free.

      I was able to find Insurance Selling Systems through this article by the company’s owner, Dean Cipriano. He promises that this type of junk mail “sells like crazy” and also has some nasty things to say about people who don’t want to lie to their prospective customers. http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/54975

      Sending out “personal” messages about weight loss is pretty damn icky.