Today In Stunt Marketing: FATTY FATTY FAT FAT

Law Practice

Back in April I noted that a prominent court reporting firm had started marketing by spamming me with somewhat unsettling short stories. Today I see a private investigation firm is taking the same approach.

I just received an email from this firm — familiar to me, and probably to many in Southern California — with a very brief subject line:


Well, I thought. Fair enough, but I don't see why someone needed to hire a private dick to figure that out.

But the email was not a j'accuse — the subject line was intended as an attention-grabber, referring to the street name of a character in the possibly-true story that followed about how this firm uncovered an insurance cheat, ending with a pitch for their services.

Did the subject line grab my attention? Yes it did.

Will I ever use this private investigation firm? No. I forwarded the email to my office. The reactions were universal: "creepy" "pathetic" "unprofessional" "ugh".

No sale.

Last 5 posts by Ken White



  1. Zack  •  Aug 20, 2013 @10:56 am


    It's not so much all the ways this can go wrong, but how in the HELL was this supposed to ever go RIGHT? I can't conceive of anyone who would react positively to that sort of marketing.

  2. ShelbyC  •  Aug 20, 2013 @11:07 am

    Comparative advantage. If 1% of people respond favorably to this technique, but <1% of firms use it…

  3. BCP  •  Aug 20, 2013 @11:30 am

    Relax, man, he's a brother Seamus.

  4. Al I.  •  Aug 20, 2013 @12:20 pm

    Geez, that sounds to me like a deceptive subject line, which would be a violation of CAN-SPAM.

  5. Adam  •  Aug 20, 2013 @1:12 pm

    But did Nelson end up pulling your pants down?

  6. MZ  •  Aug 20, 2013 @1:56 pm

    You should call their office, ask to speak to someone in charge. Hearing how their marketing is turning away potential customers can't make things worse.

    Or call them out by name online and mock them.

  7. SKT  •  Aug 20, 2013 @5:13 pm

    Osama 3
    Obama -1

    I think we should call this game on account of darkness.

  8. En Passant  •  Aug 20, 2013 @10:01 pm

    Al I. wrote Aug 20, 2013 @12:20 pm:

    Geez, that sounds to me like a deceptive subject line, which would be a violation of CAN-SPAM.

    Disclaimer: I don't practice civil in CA, and never did. Or anywhere else either.

    But I can read. And I detest spammers.

    Deceptive subject line is among the things banned by CA's anti-spam statute. CA B&P Code Sect. 17529.5 (a)(3):

    (a) It is unlawful for any person or entity to advertise in a commercial e-mail advertisement either sent from California or sent to a California electronic mail address under any of the following circumstances: …

    (3) The e-mail advertisement has a subject line that a person knows would be likely to mislead a recipient, acting reasonably under the circumstances, about a material fact regarding the contents or subject matter of the message.

    CA's law's statutory damages are $1000 per email plus reasonable attorney fees and costs.

    So, if a recipient sues under CA statute, and convinces the court that the subject line is deceptive to a reasonable person, and the email otherwise qualifies as spam under CA law (which I won't conjecture here), the sender will at best get to appeal.

    I won't conjecture whether a CA court would find the subject line deceptive. But I think black belt civil litigator who was sufficiently unhappy about being targeted by the spammer could have some fun finding out.

    And some spammers won't stop until they lose a suit. Because Hitler.

  9. En Passant  •  Aug 20, 2013 @10:11 pm

    Well, d'oh, I forgot why Al I.'s comment Aug 20, 2013 @12:20 pm jogged my poore brane to mention CA's law in the first place.

    So I should note that CAN SPAM preemption would be defeated by the act's own terms. The CAN SPAM act preempts state law "except to the extent that any such statute, regulation, or rule prohibits falsity or deception in any portion of a commercial electronic mail message or information attached thereto."

  10. RQM  •  Aug 21, 2013 @4:50 am

    "the subject line was intended as an attention-grabber, referring to the street name of a character in the possibly-true story"

    It'd be hard to say it was deceptive, when the relevance could be argued. I once received a resume that was written in a similar fashion. It went in the trash; if you're going to try that sort of thing, proofreading is essential.

  11. Fasolt  •  Aug 21, 2013 @5:15 am

    He's not fat, he's fluffy.

  12. the other rob  •  Aug 21, 2013 @6:33 am

    @ Fasolt

    Ah, you've met my cat, Zevon, I see.

  13. Merissa  •  Aug 21, 2013 @8:40 pm

    Maybe this is like that pick-up strategy where you start out by insulting the female to make her feel insecure and eager to please? Or something.

  14. NickM  •  Aug 22, 2013 @2:02 am

    I just (well, yesterday morning) got an email from someone trying to sell me (according to the email title) Web Devlopment Services.

    Yeah, that inspires confidence.

    I was tempted to respond in the style of a Nigerian scammer wanting a website.