CR DM rating: Not recommended

If I had to pick my favourite company of all time it would probably be Consumer Reports, the Ralph Nader of the publication world. Its investigations, analyses, ratings and recommendations about various products have kept me from making innumerable purchasing errors.

If I had to pick my favourite company of all time it would probably be Consumer Reports, the Ralph Nader of the publication world. Its investigations, analyses, ratings and recommendations about various products have kept me from making innumerable purchasing errors. They’ve saved me copious quantities of money, time, frustration and embarrassment, steering me onto the right buying track more times than I can count. This is why I hate to say a bad word about them. But sometimes you have to tell a friend that he has broccoli in his teeth.

My problem with CR began last fall when I was about to replace a major appliance. Rather than believe any ads I read or the outdated opinions of people I knew, I turned to my friends at Consumer Reports for their latest unbiased analysis. In the past, I would have headed to the library to scan back issues of Consumer Reports magazine or to a bookstore to buy one of CR’s comprehensive ratings books. This time I went online.

Consumerreports.org offers a wealth of information at the click of a key, saving you considerable search time. Plus, it’s cheap to subscribe – just $3.95 US for a whole month of investigative surfing or $24 US for a year. I opted for the monthly plan, figuring about $6 Cdn was a small price to pay for the help they would give me. I was right. I found out everything I wanted to know about refrigerators and much more.

When I eventually unsubscribed, the folks at CR were very understanding and told me they’d welcome me back if I ever decided to re-subscribe. I didn’t hear from their subscription people again until last week when they e-mailed me. That was fine by me: I certainly didn’t consider that to be pestering. But what they wrote wasn’t totally fine by me.

They addressed me as ‘Dear Former Subscriber,’ leading me to believe that they recognized I’d been on online subscriber. However, they went on to talk to me like I’d been a subscriber to their magazine and told me how I could accept their ‘Welcome Back’ offer of two free books along with my magazine subscription. CR, I lamented, ye hardly knew me.

They should have known me though. Certainly someone in the promotions department must have asked for the names of former subscribers when preparing this e-campaign. Surely, names would have come in from two of their departments: ex-online subscribers from consumerreports.org and ex-magazine subscribers.

You’d think anyone involved in creating the campaign would welcome such differentiation. After all, apart from the differences between CR’s online and offline products, there must be some distinct psychographic or behavioural differences between the two groups of subscribers, allowing the letter-writer to strike the correct responsive chord, making one kind of appeal to the first audience and another to the second.

How much more receptive I would have been had the letter said they’d enjoyed having me as a cybersubscriber and that if their Web-based resource was no longer my cup of Tetley, perhaps I’d like a hard copy of the magazine delivered to my mail box each month.

The great price quoted wasn’t as great as it first appeared either. Ten issues and two books ‘all for just $20′ had me tempted to say yes. However, when I clicked onto the link, I discovered that $20 was the U.S. price; a Canuck would get dinged for $32. I was disappointed in that, but absolutely crestfallen to realize that my bosom buddies at CR didn’t even know my nationality.

I still can’t figure out why they didn’t know that I hailed from the land to the North. Not only had I paid for my subscription with a Canadian credit card, I’d provided my home address when I’d subscribed. It wouldn’t have taken too much effort to segment their e-mail list into U.S. citizens and those of Canada.

So how can CR do such a superlative job of digging up information about products, then fail so miserably when information is handed to them on a golden platter? Inquiring minds want to know.

Magazines practically invented direct mail. They passed on a wealth of tips on what to do and not do when using the medium. Maybe some of them are just out of their league when they venture beyond what they know – words printed on paper – and enter the cyberworld. Or, maybe they’re still teaching us what not to do, if CR’s latest e-mail campaign is any indication.

Despite his misgivings about this recent e-mail, Bob Knight of Knight & Associates feels that Consumer Reports is a kindred spirit – it critiques products; he critiques DM campaigns about products. Of course, he also creates campaigns himself. Contact Bob at b_knight@telus.net. All prices quoted in Canadian dollars. No need to subscribe . . . now or ever.