Business

Catriona Stewart: M&S marketing emails will not encourage me to buy

IN the end it was Marks and Spencer that took it too far.

Minding my own business, as is the custom in such circumstances, I had purchased some new underwear. Nothing outrageous, just a simple matching set on the politer side of nice.

About a week later arrived an email from M&S, enquiring as to my satisfaction with the purchase. To pretty up the email, the company had included a photograph of a model wearing my recently acquired underwear.

I mean. Come on. As if showing me how my bralette and pants look on a much hotter, fuller busted woman is going to send me flying back to the shop for more.

That was really the straw that broke the camel’s back. Previously M&S had been just on the right side of creepy with emails sporting subject headings such as “Thank you for buying our free range eggs, Catriona” and “Thank you for buying our Victoria blackberries.”

I’m fine with a photo of cheese or sourdough or a stone fruit, but I draw the line at having my self-esteem crushed by mailing list.

Every day my email account is a mini-slog of deleting the vast and varied marketing correspondence that lands ready to sell me something, ask me something or just have a chat.

I fully appreciate that the “unsubscribe” button is there waiting but, honestly, some of these companies don’t make it easy to escape their probing digital phalanges.

It does not matter what you buy, every online purchase leads to a slew of pally missives. I had one from the CEO of Tesco recently, as if it was addressed to me personally. Don’t know the man.

I sent my friend’s mum some flowers because she and the bouquet shared the same name. Well, the next day the head of customer insight sent an email that lead with, “I wanted a to say a personal thank you for choosing us.” [SIC]

If I had been in my local florist and a face-to-face transaction had taken place then yes, I would expect a personal thank you there and then. Not off the internet.

While I’ve been typing this the Isle of Sky Candle Company has sent me an email proclaiming that it’s a great day to be merry. That’s a bold gamble, in pandemic times.

I’m getting three or four emails a week from McDonald’s and I’m pretty sure I’ve never signed up to that. It just occurs to me that I used the free wifi a couple of months ago. They emailed on Sunday to tell me that yesterday was the last Monday of 2021. How useful. I didn’t click it at the time but have now and it was offering a breakfast muffin for 99p.

Maybe these emails aren’t as bad as they seem.

I’ve tried to get a simple check up with my dentist to no avail. Yet every month I receive a newsletter from the practice detailing the contouring, teeth whitening and Invisalign procedures transforming the lives of other patients.

I’d just like to know if my teeth are still cavity-free, given it’s two years since I last saw my dentist, but instead spend time reading about how such-and-such was able to “smile with confidence” on her wedding day.

As someone irked by weddings on feminist grounds, the practice might as well just give me a literal kick in the teeth and be done with it.

The New York Times sends a morning briefing and a cookery newsletter every day. I didn’t have time to read them both for a while and eventually received an email saying that, because I hadn’t been reading, I would be taken off the mailing list.

Now, you would think this would be an ideal set up – how responsive, how effective – but, actually, I’m really worried I’ve offended the AI behind the algorithm now so each day I carefully click and scroll, just quickly, so the machine doesn’t feel unloved.

That’s the point of these emails, is it? To make the consumer feel loved, despite the fact we’re actually being manipulated by multiple algorithms; the overlord decisions of whichever email platform we use; and the carefully curated nous of marketing departments.

This is not what I want, it’s what the algorithm thinks I want. Or what a real person now at some great distant point away from human civility thought other people might want in order to buy stuff they likely don’t need.

There are a few of these mailouts I find interesting. I’m nuts about the Goop newsletter, Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness outfit. It is, let me tell you, a hoot. Some of the recipes are actually reasonable but you hold out for the occasional vaginal candle or £800 smoothie just to enliven the day.

Hot models wearing my pants is a bridge too far. It’s an automatic unsubscribe from me from now on, no matter how many robots are left crying onto their motherboards.

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