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A Weird and Wasteful Ad Campaign From Extensis

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Ever since I wrote about Extensis's Suitcase 10 font management software (see "A Quick Trip with Suitcase 10", 22 April 2002), I've been on the company's physical mailing list. Usually this means receiving an occasional press packet in the mail, but recently Extensis has started a truly strange ad campaign directed at members of the press.

First, a large cube-shaped FedEx package arrived at my door. I opened it to find a life-size featureless styrofoam head. It clearly came from Extensis, but apart from that there was no clue as to its meaning. It was useless and ugly and there was no reason to keep it, so I put it in the recycle bin (I wasn't sure it was recyclable, but I didn't want it clogging the landfill) and dismissed it from my mind.

Then, a week or two later, Extensis sent me another FedEx package, this time rather flat. I opened it and reached inside, and to my surprise (and horror) I found myself touching a mass of wiry hair. Luckily, it was only a wig, and not an actual scalp or piece of roadkill. So now the clues were in place: the first package was a wig stand, and here was the wig. But there was still no explanation of what Extensis was leading up to.

Nor did I wait to find out; I'd had enough. I phoned Extensis's public relations office and asked them to take me off the mailing list. My objections to this ad campaign were five-fold:

  • It's annoying. I don't like mysteries and I don't find the supposed question of what new product some software company is about to announce to be particularly intriguing in the grand scheme of things.

  • It's unnecessary. If Extensis wants to tell me something, why can't they just tell me? And if it's a new product they want me to consider for review, why can't they just send me a license, like everyone else?

  • It's expensive. Someone has to pay for all this FedEx shipment, the purchase of these objects, the labor required to pack them and send them out, and so on. Presumably that someone will in the end be the purchasers of the software. I wouldn't want to buy software from a company that was spending my money in this way, especially in this modern age of email press releases.

  • It's wasteful. This is really the part that gets me. These objects arriving at my house are all going right back out of it. That's not good for the landfill and the planet. And what about the resource costs of packing and shipping these things via FedEx to some unknown number of members of the press? Such behavior shows a callous lack of consideration and consciousness.

  • It's assaulting. When I described these mailings to Adam, he immediately put his finger on the horror factor I was having trouble expressing: the whole thing is rather like that creepy scene in The Godfather where the Hollywood producer wakes up with a horse's head in his bed.

The really odd part is that this whole campaign seems to me to be utterly misbegotten. Does Extensis imagine that the press is going to give some software a positive review just because it has been sent some pointless objects? Especially pointless objects that are downright disturbing? One has to wonder what they're smoking over at Extensis, or at Extensis's parent company, Celartem. If I were in charge over there, some heads would roll, and they wouldn't be styrofoam.

 

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