A Case Study On How Personalized Marketing Went Too Far

by Paul Wilson

 

Editor’s Note: Please read the CEO of Keepy, Offir Gutelzon‘s, response in the comments below. Not only did he comment on this article and my Facebook page, but he also personally spoke with me on the phone about my article. The call was polite, civil, and frankly, humble on his end. He spoke candidly about the mistakes made and his reasoning behind some of their tactics.

My tone in the below article is one of apprehension and conspiracy. The truth is rarely this harsh. Offir has agreed to provide a follow-up post that shares the lessons learned from this campaign and a response to my criticisms. I will link to his post once up. I’m leaving the original article in its entirety as a cautionary tale for future companies on the dangers of going too far with personal marketing.

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My original title for this post was: Keepy is Really, Really Creepy, and truth be told it better describes the overall sentiment of all impacted parties in this case study.

A little background.

I am the father of four beautiful rug-rats.

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Like many fathers who think their children are the universe’s gift to humanity, I like to show off their drawings. There is an app for that! In fact, there are several apps for that.

One of those apps just happens to be Keepy – a mobile app that stores your children many, many, many drawings and lets you share them with those who have the same belief (or at least pretend to) about your children.

Cool, right? I thought so as well.

I downloaded it, added my children’s names, and entered the names AND email addresses of my parents and in-laws. Doing so insured they would receive the masterpieces their grandchildren were creating. After providing all this data and playing around a bit with it I never used it again.

Even though I forgot about the app, the app didn’t forget about me. Several months later I received an email from my mother-in-law simply stating: “Did you send this to me?” Below is the email she forwarded to me.

At first I was confused. I figured the email was spam from hear.com, but how in the world did they get my children’s names and the name they call my mother-in-law?

It had been a while since I had even thought about the app, so the name Keepy didn’t ring a bell. I had to dig into my email in order to jog my memory.

When I did figure it out I actually felt betrayed by the company. I trusted them with intimate information that I was not okay with them using for advertising.

I’m not naive when it comes to privacy and advertising. We give up a lot to get free products like Gmail, Pandora, and Facebook.

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However, there are boundaries and Keepy in my opinion stepped over them. Let me share three reasons on exactly how and why:

1. The subject line had information on minors that should be carefully used when applied to advertising

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For me the most obvious boundary breaker is the email title. Using the names of the grandchildren, who are minors, will definitely increase Keepy’s open rate. Yet, once the person realizes the email is from an unknown business it puts him or her immediately on the defensive.

I get advertisements using our children’s name from our pediatrician, church, and host of other services that we use regularly. This, however, is the first time my children were used by a third party for spam (I’m surprised there are no laws around this when minors are involved).

Both mine and my mother-in-law’s inner protective bear emerged. We didn’t receive the email positively because we were too concerned about how the children we loved were being exploited.

A FAR better subject line would be: “Would you like to hear your grandchildren better?”. Have you ever met a stranger who took a genuine interest in your life? For most people this isn’t a negative experience. The stranger’s inquiry is usually general and it creates a one-on-one connection. The suggested subject line I just offered achieves this objective.

Now flip that scenario, have you ever just met someone who inquired about information a stranger shouldn’t know? Yeah, it makes everything feel a bit stalker-ish, which Keepy’s actual subject line achieved — perfectly.

A classic example of another company doing this was when Target mailed an expecting mother advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture, and pictures of smiling infants. Doesn’t sound so bad, but the expecting mother was a teenager and her parents weren’t aware that she was pregnant until Target sent their unrequested maternal advertising (true story).

2. The salutation used a family term of endearment not used by outsiders

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Email marketing 101 teaches how using the person’s name when beginning the email is a positive thing. In fact, one study shows that personalized emails deliver six times higher transaction rates.

So, it’s not surprising Keepy would apply this as a best practice.

BUT

And this is a big but. Obviously when building their app they knew the users wouldn’t be using first names of the family members provided. This app deals with people’s children, and more than likely people will use the terms their children use, not the first name of the individual.

I believe it was a deliberate effort on Keepy’s end to make a connection with the receiver beyond that of a regular advertiser. If a business knows what your grandchildren call you then the advertisement must come from a trusted source, which leads me to my next and final point.

3. The P.S. was deliberately leveraging a personal connection without explicit consent

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I think this is the most dishonest part of the email. It is trying to make the whole email seem like I personally referred this product to my mother-in-law.

I am sure somewhere buried in their terms of service I am consenting to this, but it wasn’t brought to my attention when I added her to the app. Had I know what Keepy would do with this information, not only would I not have consented, but I would have deleted the app.

Ultimately, the whole event left a bad taste in my mouth. It didn’t help Keepy’s or Hear.com’s brand. My blog post alone should show that what they are doing is bad for business, but if you look at the reviews in the App Store you’ll see that there are other users who feel Keepy truly is Creepy!

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