Design Deception



I’ve got nothing against business wanting to do business. We live in a capitalist society after all. But some businesses seem to think that any method of deception is justifiable in their quest for profit. And to me, this kind of thing is pretty much on the same level as the endless spam emails that fill your Inbox every day trying to convice you that a patch will make your penis bigger.

Take for example, the letter I received yesterday, shown above, from our friends at Reader’s Digest. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was actually an important document of some kind, covered as it is with a despatch code, a ‘deadline compliant’ tracking reference number, a security reference number; not to mention the big red bar with DO NOT DESTROY on it, and the official-looking brown paper the envelope is made of. There’s even a printed ‘hand-written’ touch—‘information protected’.

What does all this mean? I’m special! It’s for me, and me only! If you tear open this tissue of lies the crap continues inside— the letter repeats the ‘deadline compliant’ graphic, but this time to look like a green sticker; the endless reference numbers continue, the letter is personalised throughout. Someone didn’t return their Sweepstakes entry—and that mistake cost them $50,000! I’ve passed two of the three stages necessary to win up to FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS! There are lots of CAPITALS and bolded words! My neighbours—apparently—are looking in their letterboxes in vain!

Deception, outright lies, pre-meditated, cold-hearted fakery. Everything about this piece of communication and design is intended to fool the recipient, whether they be someone who can immediately spot the deception a mile off and immediately throw it in the recycling bin where it belongs, or a geriatric pensioner with no money to spare living with the false belief that Reader’s Digest is still an organisation of integrity.

If they came to me to design this letter—I’d tell them to bugger off.

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. anaglyph
    Apr 06, 2006 @ 13:58:54

    Ah, you see this is perfect though. It’s Postage Paid, so you can retaliate.
    What you need to do is write ‘Urgent! Please Return To Sender’ all over it, and ‘Important Documents Enclosed!” and so forth. The Post Office has to send it back! If enough people did this, it would create such a hassle that either the PO or the Readers Digest would get pissed off.
    What you may not know is that often the PO is complicit in these kinds of things – I bet RD gets a BIG discount for their huge bulk mail out. I believe about 15% of mail revenue for the PO comes from junk.
    Complain to the Post Office too!
    Another thing you can do is get one of the No Junk Mail stickers – there’s a place that gives you the stickers and if you get junk mail, you call them and they take on the person sending the junk. Can’t remember what they’re called, but I put one on my letterbox and it stopped most junk mail (except for local restaurants pretty much).

  2. UniversalHead
    Apr 06, 2006 @ 14:47:14

    Good idea, next time I will (I ripped this up in disgust after I’d scanned it).
    It’s disgusting that the Post Office takes part in this kind of garbage.
    As for ‘No Junk Mail’ – I made my own. I agree, they cut down on the snailmail spam quite a lot. I didn’t realise you could get a place to track them down though. Yeah, viva la revolution!

  3. jedimacfan
    Apr 07, 2006 @ 10:46:25

    I made a sticker that says “No Bills. And another one that said “Winning check from Publisher’s Clearinghouse Only”. No luck, so far, though…

  4. UniversalHead
    Apr 07, 2006 @ 15:31:17

    Damn! I just got another one, even more fake-official than the last. They’ve got my number!
    This one’s getting the Return to Sender treatment.

  5. Annie
    Apr 11, 2006 @ 13:05:12

    I was having fun reading your blog and relaxing with a cup of tea. A nice break from my real occupation which is fielding calls from telemarketers, phone companies and the like.
    P.S. The best thing to do with those ridiculous (albeit fascinating on some level) phoney mailouts is to give them to the kids to play with.

  6. UniversalHead
    Apr 11, 2006 @ 13:20:26

    Wow, you’re kids are easily amused … cardboard boxes for Xmas too is it? 😉

  7. Annie
    Apr 12, 2006 @ 16:48:55

    Yeah, but no, but it’s just that, you see often the envelopes have scratchies and stickers and one time even a special key, and well kids DO love opening packets, not to mention filling in important looking forms … HEY I’M A GREAT MUM OK!!

  8. UniversalHead
    Apr 12, 2006 @ 17:09:07

    Yeah but no but yeah but no but –

  9. Annie
    Apr 13, 2006 @ 13:45:09

    Compew-er says no