Young Spirit v Older Body

Young Spirit v Older Body
alex on the deck
It’s not all reading glasses and wide-eyed children

I received a not-for-profit solicitation in the mail the other day.  It’s an organisation that I believe does worthwhile work in the local and international communities.  I have supported it for many years with donations of money, and more recently with my time and services.

But, the solicitation really disturbed me – it made me very uncomfortable on a number of levels:

  • I was clearly placed into a demographic slice of the market
  • erroneous assumptions were made about me on that basis
  • donation amounts were suggested on the basis of what I have given in the past, not on what my circumstances are now

The solicitation included a lovely LARGE PRINT letter telling me that the organisation’s achievements are really my achievements and that they could only continue to achieve what they are achieving with my support.  The pack included a large print infographic describing those achievements, and a 2015 calendar with the faces of people I have ostensibly helped including white children on swings, white people “my age” doing “normal” things, first aid provision, a variety of young and old ethnic people and a medical person in the field.

I have to say I really did appreciate the large print typeface and not needing to find my reading glasses!  But while this generic approach was  bad enough, a solicitation tailored specifically for me would have been even more disturbing.

As anyone who has completed a marketing unit at University (and therefore knows all about it) can tell you, a demographic groups consumers by their objective characteristics – in my case, in this instance, gender, age and ethnicity – middle-aged white lady.  (I loathe the definition middle-aged).

According to my marketing textbook [1], as Gen X, I am sort of the forgotten child in between the Baby Boomers and Gen Y.  I even have the smallest allotted space in the book which describes me as a cynical and time-poor shopper.   I think that this particular not-for-profit marketing kit has gone with the standard assumptions of white privilege and of women being caring and nurturing.

So far so blah, but we have to remember that this is a marketing product specifically designed to make me give them money.  And that’s perfectly understandable given that my own government (and probably yours) is cutting aid payments so they can fund local and international anti-terrorist activities.  Money to support the underprivileged wherever they are, now needs to be found elsewhere.

But while I have grey hair, my circumstances have not “blessed” me with children let alone grandchildren.  Fortunately, I seem to lack the necessary biological clock, but I’ve been told that in times of crisis such as ill health, reproduction is a discretionary system that your brain simply turns off.  Pictures of wide-eyed children will therefore not sway me as much as wide-eyed puppies or goats or whatever.  And while I might be white, I’m unemployed, living on savings and paying off a masters degree which may have been the most colossally wasteful purchase decision of my life to date.  I am definitely a cynical shopper though.

So why did this solicitation creep me out?  In all likelihood, aside from a letter written by a bright young copywriter (from the Marketing company), the only human part of the process would have been the decision to run a series of category letters using information stored in their customer relationship management system (CRM).  I have a longstanding relationship with this organisation, and my “supporter number” has probably been used over time to glean the information their CRM used to generate my letter.  I have been reduced to a stereotype, and it is not even a group that I feel as though I belong to!

Not to mention that the material was too marketing slick as well as incredibly badly pitched.  It was on par with the solicitations my local Member of Parliament was sending me during the election campaign.  And in both cases, I was paying for them.  That is to say that if I was actually paying taxes or making philanthropic donations, I would be paying for them. And maybe that’s the bit that hurts the most – in both cases the pittance paid to solicit my particular interest was wasted, and if you multiply that by the other people like me who have been miscast, that’s not a pittance any longer.  And if you add to that, all the other not-for-profit organisations that are sending me (slightly less disturbing) letters…

In any case, for the moment, I’ll continue to focus on donations of time and experience.

What are your thoughts on this?  Do direct marketing letters annoy you too?  What is it about them that annoys you?

[1] Grewal, Dhruv, and Michael Levy. 2013. marketing. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

One comment

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.