Bad Data: Return to Sender

In this era of supposedly sophisticated database management, it’s downright amusing (and costly to the sender) when I get a postcard like the one shown here. It’s addressed to my office in Bethesda, Maryland, and it comes from Discover. It presents an attractive offer to sign up for Charter’s triple play and lock in a good rate for two years.

There are only two problems: it’s a consumer offer coming to a business address, and I’m at least 160 miles from the nearest Charter headend, more than 300 miles from its closest cluster of systems.

That the snail-mail came from Discover is understandable: I have a Discover Business card, billed via this office address. But what a mailing list gaffe! I can only assume that many of my Discover-using neighbors (and maybe many others) here inside the Beltway got a similar Charter offer. Who knows how many others around the country got similar wrong offers.

I didn’t call Comcast (my local provider) to see if it would match Charter’s “offer.” I did call the Charter customer service number on the postcard. The CSR said I was his third such call today, and his supervisor asked him and other CSRs to keep track of how many out-of-territory” responses they get today. I can’t find anyone at Discover card to talk about the mailing list gaffe, but I’m guessing that Charter’s marketing team is already all over Discover’s mailing list manager.

In the scheme of industry challenges, a bad mailing list ranks near the bottom. Nonetheless, it’s yet another reminder that the computer (or more likely the human who selected the lists) is not infallible. At a time when customers are confused enough about multichannel video providers, these kinds of goofs, however rare, add to the confusion. As it is, I’m getting about 10 direct mail offers per month from Verizon FiOS (with regularly revised “deals”), plus countless FiOS inserts that drop out of local newspapers and magazines. Not to mention constant digital offers and conventional advertising.

Marketing is inevitably a mysterious art. For many prospective customers, the Discover offer on behalf of Charter just adds to the mystery.

Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications LLC in Bethesda, Md., and a long-time interactive TV enthusiast. Reach him at

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.