Archive: April 8th, 2010

Auto-Renewal Notification Review

I recently received a copy of Food Network magazine–to which I tried a trial subscription a year ago–with this letter pasted to the cover.

Important Subscriber Notice” is emblazoned across the top, with a warning that, “This is a reminder that your current subscription term is ending, but as a part of our Continuous Service program, your subscription will automatically renew unless you tell us to stop.”

To my knowlege, publishers are legally required to alert people before they are automatically billed for a subscription (a requirement of which I entirely approve). I thought this presentation of that “tickler letter” was pretty creative, first of all.

When I tell you this was pasted onto the cover–I mean exactly that. It wasn’t just an insert into the polybag the magazine arrived in. It wasn’t an “attached renewal” that was stuffed into an envelope in the bag, that saved postage but otherwise looked like a regular renewal. No, this was literally stuck to the cover, like a giant post-it note. Impossible to miss.

It very clearly states that this is not a bill. “No action on your part is necessary to renew.”

All-in-all, pretty clever, right? It makes sure you can’t miss it. It doesn’t permanently deface the actual issue. It’s polite and clear in its message.

There’s only one problem.

There, in the small print? “You can cancel your subscription or automatic continuous service charges at any time by writing ‘cancel’ on your invoice and returning it in the envelope we provide, visiting our website or forwarding your request to….

First, and most importantly, there was no provided envelope and since this particular letter is NOT a bill … what invoice am I supposed to be writing “cancel” on?

Second, I tried going to the website and … once I found the customer service section (which took a while), there was an option for cancelling the subscription. Except, that looked like it would cancel it right away, instead of just letting it run to expire (which would be my preference), and I didn’t see any option at all for just removing the “auto-renew” code so that I could get regular, printed renewal notices, which would be my second choice.

I didn’t hate the magazine, you see, but I don’t remember signing up for the automatic-renewal program (hence the legal requirement of the reminder). I just prefer to be the one to decide when and if my magazine subscriptions get renewed, so the fact that I somehow got entered as an auto-renew sub … my guess is there was small print on the original direct mail order card I sent back … is not my preference.

They didn’t waste the inside/back of the letter, either, but took the chance to remind readers of all the benefits of subscribing. Because, it would have been silly to leave the flip side empty, right?

One more note–I liked the judicious use of color. The entire piece is primarily black and white, except for a few elements in shades of green–just enough to catch your eye, but not enough to be (1) distracting or (2) overly expensive to print. The actual letter text (“Dear Valued Reader, I appreciate you being a reader…”) is in a box that visually separates it from the “jargon,” if you will. It’s actually the least important part of this page, and therefore printed in a smaller font, and kept separate, like a sidebar.

Ultimately, I liked this delivery method, I thought it was creative and effective. When you write direct mail pieces or subscription letters, you DREAM of having fool-proof ways of making somebody at least see (if not read) your piece.

I just wish whoever had written this had thought through the “write cancel and return in the envelope” bit a little more carefully. It’s like a glaring error in an otherwise perfect piece.

Edited to add: It’s good that I held this before publishing this post because about two weeks later, I got an Invoice in the mail saying it was for the automatic renewal, and please pay now. It doesn’t seem very cost-effective, but at least it explains what invoice they meant I should write “cancel” on if I wasn’t interested.