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Published on January 30th, 2008 | by Janine Popick


Publishers Clearinghouse Must Die!

I know it’s a strong statement, but as a direct marketer myself I’m embarrassed that a company like this is in our industry. For that matter Reader’s Digest should die too but I’ll stick to one for this post.

Some time ago I visited a woman I am close to, who is getting a bit older and needed some help going through some paperwork at her home. She’s pretty much alone, her husband is deceased. Going through piles of paperwork I was amazed: I discovered she’s been “suckered” by PCH for many years now. They’ve been teasing her with the chance to win big, but also giving her the “opportunity” to buy their products at a “members-only” discounted price. I honestly think that she believes her chances of winning are better the more she buys (as dictated by all of the piles of these products in her home).

Their tag line is “It’s all about winning“ isn’t it?

Hold Your SuperPrize! So I looked at one (of many) envelopes from PCH.  In this particular envelope is an offer for you to “hold” your own SuperPrize number which may win you a million bucks. There is a 48 hour warning that you must return it by. The kicker? They say if you don’t respond someone else YOUR NEIGHBOR will get your number and they may win.

You definitely don’t want this to be the one time you fail to enter on time. (Although I’d bet your neighbor would be happy if you didn’t respond!)…Imagine now that you fail to enter your $1,000,000.00 SuperPrize Number on time: What’s this? The Prize Patrol is surprising your neighbor with the Big Check! Soon after, your see your neighbor with a new car in the driveway of costly home improvements underway. Then you hear that they’re leaving on the kind of vacation you’ve only dreamed about. And all this could happen because you said, “No, I don’t want my SuperPrize Number!”

Right underneath the SuperPrize offer where you put your “Yes” stamp is another offer to “activate your customer benefits.” This means that you “send no money now” when you order their products and that you have a whole 14 days to return them.

Finally, on this same order piece, they ask for you to buy their Pain Spray, which “helps temporarily relieve pain fast!” Included are pics of an elderly couple living healthy with a caveat in small print “No purchase necessary to enter. A purchase won’t improve an individual’s chance of winning.” Right.

But wait there’s more! An insert of the potential to enter and win a Panasonic 32″ HDTV and $1000 in cash with of course a pic of an elderly couple winning.

Are You Kidding Me? Upon further reading of the “rules” the prize will be paid out
in annual increments of $25,000 and upon the 30th year $275,000. Not to be crass but do you think the next of kin gets the money if the winner passes on?

Buying Won’t Help You Win.  Even though the rules state this right beneath it is the No-Hassle Cancel and Return policy which states that if you don’t return something within 14 days of receipt, you don’t get your money back you get credit for other products they sell.

Products? Pain Spray, Government Secrets (book), Mystery Gift hand-picked by the Senior Product Person, The Final Battle (book), The Amazing Bag Sealer, Battery Free Flashlight, Nostradamus (book), Bug Lights, Credit Card Case, Birthday Card Bonanza, Sport Socks, Binoculars, Pocket Magnifier so you can read small type, knit gloves and scarf, do I need to go on?

So, do they employ some pretty great direct marketing tactics? You bet!

  • They do some great personalization everywhere.
  • Most of the font size if 14 pts. or larger (even the rules!)
  • They use a sweepstakes.
  • They use expiration dates.
  • They target their offers to the elderly.
  • They keep a great updated database.

Using any of these tactics are a super way to spice up your offerings in your email marketing and direct mail campaigns. Hey they’ve been around and working for years. So why should PCH die? They wrap it up altogether in a way that tricks the elderly who don’t understand that most of this is database driven, and mechanically put together. Many of them really think that PCH is talking to them. They just want to win something big. (I haven’t even researched, but chances are they’re renting lists of people who also fall within a certain income bracket as well.)

P.S. On top of it all I went to their home page to check it out. It’s one big list collection tool for the prize drawing. However, when I tried to navigate away from the page, it told me that if I did I’d forfeit my prize number!!

Check out the fascinating stories others have about PCH, they’re now being spoofed and other companies are tricking these poor people out of their life savings.

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About the Author

is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse.

6 Responses to Publishers Clearinghouse Must Die!

  1. David says:

    They are only Preying on those who allow it!, I personally use the Website in order to enter into their Sweepstakes, and I Have bought a few things, but other than that I do not allow their marketing campain to excite me into something I don’t want.

  2. Oliveria Jones says:

    John Myers – This is where moral, amoral and immoral separates in the world of marketing.

  3. betty mahan says:

    I have been trying for a year to off of their mailing list. These people are like leeches, they never let go.

  4. Ted Baker says:

    PCH follows timeless, old school DM rules that seem to have been largely ignored the past several years. So good for them, I’m sure they follow a solid multivariate ‘test then rollout’ approach to their solicitations.
    That said, I too have experience dealing with elderly people that have been targeted and duped by PCH into buying items they don’t need. I’d love to get a peek into their list rental orders, I am sure they target AARP and any other list or overlay that can help them get at people more susceptible to their deceptive offers. Die PCH!

  5. John Myers says:

    Shocked to read that direct marketer would speak so falsely and biased about a company in business for over 50 years that has been a pillar in Direct Marketing.
    Yes, sweepstakes mailings are not for everyone and at times can read a bit too over the top. But they provide great deals on magazines and merchandise and make it abuntandly clear in each mailing that no purchase is necessary and buying won’t help you win. My understanding is that far from targeting the elderly the company has in place several industry leading programs to detect any such senior who may be buying for the wrong reasons.
    Last I checked our state lotteries require a purchase and do nothing to help those who are in over thier heads.
    Your venom is way off the mark.

  6. Anil says:

    Hi, you are so right. Such firms should die …sooner the better!

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