Why, AOL?

Since 1995, my mail has been regularily loaded with free discs from AOL.

Back in "the day" at 1-800-FLOWERS, we began calling the disc mailings "coasters." We used them (in the packaging) to put our coffee on. We occasionally flung them at each other like weapons when we were hopped up on caffiene. I think I might still have a few scars.

For some reason, it has never mattered to AOL that sending me discs may have been futile: For six of my coaster-laden years, I already had an AOL account. Now that I don't, I'm getting a coaster about every six weeks.

The fact is, this practice works for AOL: It has disc mailing thing down to a low-cost science: Every time they send out a mass disc mailing, they get a spike in new membership. It doesn't matter that many respondents only sign on for the free period... they're still members, and AOL can take this to the bank.

But, please tell me why it doesn't make sense to put a predictive response model in place that will filter out someone like me, who has not, since 1997, responded to an AOL offer! Tell me why it makes sense to send these discs to individuals who already have an AOL account, and will merely throw them away?

AOL knows they're a nuisance. They even poked fun at the fact with their Snoop Dogg ads a year or two ago. Remember the commercial where the family created a wall sculpture (a fish) out of useless discs?

In the early days the coasters came in a flat, square cardboard mailing... but now the packaging is getting even more environmentally irresponsible and obnoxious: I now get them in plastic jewel cases, metal containers, or better yet - the DVD-like cases, none of which are recyclable. Today's behemoth is pictured above. It's actualy cardboard (thick) ... wrapped in plastic. The call to action claims that no other service provider will protect me like AOL.

I say no other service provider irritates me like AOL. This mailing isn't compelling, interesting or relevant to me. Beyond not being interested, I hate having to deal with throwing it away. I can't help but picture landfills overloaded with AOL coasters: A result of domestic and workplace pileups for more than a decade. I actually feel a little hostility toward AOL for forcing me to figure out how to responsibly throw away this useless mailing.

If AOL wants to hook me today, they've got to think beyond 15-year old marketing tactics. Why not send me a low-end digital audio player with free downloads each month on AOL Music, in exchange for a monthly signup? Why not send me a postcard that says "we've missed you" with a come back offer that is truly different and relevant to me? Why not do some market research and offer premium services (e.g. Love@AOL.com) free for a short time period, in exchange for a discounted yearly membership?

Now, I'm writing this purely from the perspective of a frustrated consumer. Sending me more junk just isn't going to cut it, AOL. It won't work for thousands of other consumers, either. So, until you can get more creative, please take me off your mailing list!


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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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