Matchstick Marketing Crosses the Line into Spamming

You know, I’m pretty sensitive to marketers who contact me. I’m a marketer myself, and I’ve witnessed my fair share of bloggers cruelly publicizing naive errors on the part of PR and marketing folks. Everyone’s human, after all, and there are far more compelling things to write about.

Today, I’m making an exception.

Matchstick is a ‘word of mouth marketing company’ in Toronto (witness the beautiful, young, ethnically diverse people on their site). A few weeks ago I received two simultaneous emails from two separate people at Matchstick. They weren’t duplicates, but the gist was that they wanted to do some ‘research on blogs’ and had ‘a new tech gadget’ that they thought would appeal to bloggers.

Fair enough. Though this qualifies by Tim Bray’s definition as spam, I was ambivalent. While they didn’t demonstrate much familiarity with this site, they were honest about who they were and, after some enquiry, what they wanted.

I replied to both Matchstick reps in a single email, asking for some clarification and that they decide between themselves who wanted to talk to me. They both replied again, so I politely said ‘thanks but no thanks.’

A couple of weeks passed. In that time, I received two emails from other bloggers I know who were passing on Matchstick’s information. That wasn’t a problem. After all, I already knew these folks. I just mention it to say that they’re apparently pitching the blogosphere pretty hard.

Today I get two more emails from two different Matchstick reps asking the same thing again. This time the text they used was more or less identical.

So, that’s four emails from Matchstick from four different staff members all asking the same thing. And two of those messages came after I clearly expressed my disinterest in their offer.

Matchstick might want to invest in some CRM software, and learn how to use it. I think they’ve qualified themselves as spammers, don’t you? I think their messages qualify as spam, don’t you?

I contacted Matchstick with my complaint, and had a pleasant conversation with their CEO, Patrick Thoburn. He was very apologetic, saying that they had made “a very gross error” (I’m quoting with his permission). In explaining the mistake, he said:

Believe it or not, we do have a system designed to prevent this kind of thing from happening and it’s broken down in your case. We’ve taken this incident this incident seriously, and because you contacted us we’re going to change some things.

That’s good to hear. I’m certainly not saying they shouldn’t be pitching bloggers–they should. They should just be doing it with a little more care.

UPDATE: I see Boris (also by multiple parties) and Travis were contacted as well.

UPDATE #2: Travis thinks we should chill out.

UPDATE #3: Jen is also unimpressed.

UPDATE #4: I see the mainstream media picked up the story.


  1. DB, you ninny, they were trying to give you a shiny new phone. Your loss, my gain. I’m not dumb enough to assume that I was in the top 45 of their list :).

    In fairness, my experience with them has been considerably less confused than yours, and I suspect a shiny new phone is a bigger deal to me than it would be to you. We’ll see what happens when the shiny new phone arrives in the mail.

    Regarding the nature of their contact being spam or not, I’d like to point out that this allowed me to redefine (for me, personally) spam as “commercial email from someone who is addressing me personally, and who has probably read my blog.”

    Note that there’s a useful heuristic here: these messages were so targeted that they were, by their very nature, costly to generate (in the same way that typical spam is not: untargeted, dependent entirely on enough volume to make response rates expressible only with negative exponents worthwhile, and frequently fraudulent, offensive, or both).

    Note that most of the bleeding-edge anti-spam systems being mooted right now are about making spam in some way “expensive” for senders: forcing them to compute an algorithm or paying actual money.

    If all the spam I got consisted of generous offers to test out electronics, I would be designing special heuristic filters to get more of that stuff!

    Seriously, db: I can understand your annoyance, but even you know this was just a set of crossed wires within a reasonably legit company.

    Boris: I think you’re unnecessarily down on Matchstick, though I might be less amused if I already had a nicer, shinier phone (actually, between work and home, I have access to several phones of varying shininess, the shiniest being a Treo), but I TOTALLY AGREE with you on the insane data plan thing.

    I can only assume that Rogers, Telus, and Bell are so underprovisioned that they’re trying to drive data traffic away from their wireless networks, or else Fido is so desperate they’re willing to do anything to get people on their network.

    Maybe the larger carriers are doing so well with corporate Crackberry clients that there’s no incentive to compete for the consumer/nerd/blogger market at this point.

  2. Ryan: Yeah, I sometimes get free stuff through this site. I declined (and declined again when talking to Patrick, their CEO) because I’m not particularly interested in mobile phones. More importantly, I didn’t want to spend the time it takes to switch phones.

    Given that Boris was contacted by three Matchstick reps, I’d say it was likelier to be ‘systemic crossed wires with a company’. I wouldn’t have objected to one email on this subject–it was the fact that there were four of them (and related disorganization) that bothered me.

  3. Yep…I was moderately amused by one email looking for a Toronto blogger. Not so much with #2 (whence the Word doc came from), and really unimpressed when it seemed the tactics changed and someone “completely unaffiliated with Matchstick” spammed me (some photo blogger from Toronto).

    So…where did all these people get my email from? They could very well have copied it from my website…but then someone went to the trouble to — seemingly — compile it into a list and share it around. Not appreciated.

    I stand by my statement that it was spam from my experience, and that there are better ways to promote such products.

  4. I was also contacted, and their message was forwarded to a list-serv I belong to. I’m not overly bothered by the tactic, but getting the message more than once is annoying.

  5. I think some people take life a little to seriously. My main blog is about wedding planning, and people offer me free stuff all the time in exchange for a review.

    Spam is all in the eye of the beholder. You may see a viagra email as spam, some old guy with sex issues sees it as help – come on, if SOMEONE wasn’t buying, they wouldn’t still be sending. Now, with this phone, as someone who uses a terrible outdated camera phone, this offer was more then welcomed by me – while someone with a better phone may see it as spam.

    Anyway, my point – people get all pissy about spam or anything even resembling spam – but I get at least 3-4 flyers for every legitimate letter in my snail mail and no one complains – some use them, some toss them. It’s even easier with e-mail: if you don’t want it, that’s what the DELETE button is for. Use it, and get on with your day:)

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