I Write, They Answer (Usually)
March 3, 2009 3:48 AM   Subscribe

What if you wrote to Alpo to ask if they have a senior citizen's blend, or to the AARP to inquire about the living status of Abe Vigoda? And what if they wrote back? That's the purpose of Jackassletters.com, part mischief, part mayhem, from MeFi's own cjorgensen. History has demonstrated the fun of hoax letter writing, for instance Kitty Piddle Soda from Avery's Beverages. Someone has to carry on the tradition. Tweaking the noses of power and fame. (via MeFi Projects)
posted by netbros (59 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello) did this to great effect years ago.
posted by caddis at 4:02 AM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

HTML in a typewritten letter. "ggogle". And in another letter: "Dear Herpetologists".


(The Burger King one is also very funny, but the writer seems to think that credit cards are a way to "finance" a meal. Personally, I use credit cards as a debit card that I don't need to manage a checkbook register for. I.e. I pay it off at the end of the month so there's no interest (also no fee). You can take this parenthetical remark in lieu of a letter back from BK.)
posted by DU at 4:48 AM on March 3, 2009

(The Burger King one is also very funny, but the writer seems to think that credit cards are a way to "finance" a meal. Personally, I use credit cards as a debit card that I don't need to manage a checkbook register for. I.e. I pay it off at the end of the month so there's no interest (also no fee). You can take this parenthetical remark in lieu of a letter back from BK.)

Yeah, if you use credit properly it's a fantastically useful tool that allows you to manage your money in ways that can actually benefit you. In reality a fair percentage of the population actually uses a credit card to "finance" their whopper.

For more letters like this see: Overqualified
posted by Science! at 4:59 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Letters From a Nut also did this in paper form some years ago -- it was quite entertaining, and takes a certain quantity of nerve and balls that I must say I admire, at least when making lighthearted jabs at corporate America. I'm glad to see the tradition being carried on in internet form.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:00 AM on March 3, 2009

I love this sort of gentle mischief. Somebody sent me two hilarious timewaster letters a few years ago, relating to some work I had done on a film poster. I never found out who the culprit was, but it did bear some of the hallmarks of a Timewaster Letter from Robin Cooper. I wrote a not-so-hilarious-but-knowing reply, and then never sent it. I must dig them out.
posted by bokeh at 5:02 AM on March 3, 2009

I can't read the letters because they are covered with ads.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:12 AM on March 3, 2009

Someone point out the funny ones. Aside from Avery Soda, every one I've clicked has just gotten a standard form letter in return.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:19 AM on March 3, 2009

Something about the sincerity of the LDS one strikes me as funny.
posted by DU at 5:27 AM on March 3, 2009

Another great book of this ilk was "Consumer Joe: Harassing Corporate America, One Letter at a Time" by Paul Davidson. Davidson's letters actually managed to get non-form-letter replies from many corporations.
posted by notmtwain at 5:34 AM on March 3, 2009

Back in the late 1970s when the senior-citizens-subsisting-on-dogfood meme first crossed my path, Tom Paxton performed a song, "You Can Eat Dog Food"". It was very funny. I can't find the lyrics online in a casual search, but they're hilarious.
posted by nygeek at 5:42 AM on March 3, 2009

The ads aren't so bad, except for the godawful animated "FREE EMAIL BACKGROUNDS" one I'm seeing at the bottom. cjorgenson, you know better.

The kitty piddle soda one was just something else. I'm glad someone in an office bothered to craft such a piece of awesome.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:47 AM on March 3, 2009

I don't think the ads are bad, I didn't mean that as a condemnation of the ads themselves. They just are literally covering the letters so that I can't read them.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:55 AM on March 3, 2009

I first read things of this sort in Idiot Letters, which started when Pizza Hut sent the author a letter stating "you're the kind of customer we'd like to see more often." The letters are more "Kitty Piddle Soda" and less "Assisted Suicide to decrease the elderly population."

The only letters I get are reminding me that I'm about to turn 65. Except I'll be reaching 35 first.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:14 AM on March 3, 2009

Can we get insider commentary from the other side on this one?

Also, as someone who ghostwrote responses to all manner of correspondence for a Very Important Person at some point, I only wish I had had the latitude of a Chief Bottlewasher in crafting my responses. Our response to crazy was a stock, deadpan, "I will be sure to pass along your concerns to [Government Official]".
posted by availablelight at 6:30 AM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

I recently wrote to Stoneyfield Farms, a yogurt manufacturer, with an email that read,

"Dear Stoneyfield Farms,

Your yogurt is so fucking great. I just love it so fucking much. I'd love as many free products as possible.


Saxxbie Chamblisss"

A week later I got a coupon pack in the mail.
posted by farishta at 6:46 AM on March 3, 2009 [8 favorites]

The possibilities for abusing an employee's requirement to treat everyone politely don't stop here. Use your imagination! If you're clever enough, you can waste a great deal of their time. Heh heh... that will teach them to work for a living.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:55 AM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

The letters are not bad, but the little "reaction" note, in which he explains his jokes after each, is ruinous.
posted by damehex at 7:11 AM on March 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

It's pretty bad when even Lazlo Toth doesn't write you back, though.
That would've taken the fake letter meta concept full circle, really.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:11 AM on March 3, 2009

Sometime in the eighth grade I received a perplexing letter on Time, Inc. letterhead thanking me for my recent twenty-year subscription order and looking forward to receiving a requisite payment in some astronomical (and suspiciously non-round) amount. As a fairly naive, if precocious and overeducated 13 1/2-year-old, I did what any good girl would do and sought out the snarkiest (though that word had long yet to be coined) of my friends for consultation. A rat was smelled immediately. It didn't take long to remember a certain boy whose father just happened to work in some capacity for Time Magazine. This would be a really cute boy from the prep school down the block from ours, and when I say cute, I'm talking long curly Ashton hair and apt to play "Ruby Tuesday" on the guitar at the drop of a hat. He'd "gone out" with one of my best friends the year before, but we kind of lived in horde mode back then, overtaking Park Avenue in a sort of Michelin Man down coat brigade. Pretty harmless, really. Anyway, I digress. Retaliation of some sort was definitely in order, especially since I had actually fallen for it at first and wondered how on earth I could tell my parents of my sudden indebtedness to Time.

What followed were several months of back and forth letters (typed, mind you--this was the '70's after all--no cutting, pasting, googling, more like microfilm and xerox, etc.).

Do you think I wish I'd saved them all? Yeah I do, but I threw them out when I thought I'd grown up or something. Hah!

The best one I remember from our side was ostensibly from a bowling alley seeking to recover damages. We labored long and hard over the description of what the boys' errant behavior had caused. Suffice to say that there were goofy details galore. They fell for it-- for a second. A few months later I taught the instigator to french kiss. Years later he wound up in a writing class with me, but I never asked him about that weird interlude. I have no idea what prompted him to start the ball rolling, but fun was certainly had by all.

Long live the prank letter!
posted by emhutchinson at 7:17 AM on March 3, 2009 [9 favorites]

Outrageously Yours by Bruce West is a very entertaining Canadian take on this (which, I note sadly, appears to be out of print). He had a couple of tricks to increase the likelihood of a personal response. First, he usually included a cheque for one or two dollars "to cover your expenses," which then had to be returned (although, excellently, the pope cashed it). Even better, he closed most letters with a statement something like "so, as I am clearly superbly qualified to be the new Chief of Police in your town, I will see you on Monday, May 1stat 10:00 a.m. so I can begin decorating my new office."
posted by Turtles all the way down at 7:20 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used to find this stuff more amusing till I had to be one of the people answering these letters. You hoax letter writers do realize that more often than not you are just making life more difficult for some poor wage slave, don't you, rather than the corporate CEO or government officials names you put in the headers? I'm kind of a mid-level person in my job, for example. It is not like we are all vying to be the one to have to respond to this stuff - it just gets dumped on someone.

Since us responders have no way of knowing who you letter writers are (you could be a reporter, or put the reply in a book or on the internet, after all), we have to respond seriously every time. We can't use too much humor or tweak the letter writer, even if we want to, because we also get letters very similar to this from people who intend them seriously. It sometimes can take quite a while to write some of the replies, especially if the inquiry contains lots of questions that have to be addressed (so thanks for adding to an already pretty overwhelming work load). Also, you *will* generally get an answer, but probably will not get a super quick answer, if I suspect you are just yanking my organization's chain, because I will bump you down in the priority list past the legitimate inquiries. Good/creative writing gets points, definitely, in my mind, so the ones I enjoy the most are generally the ones that are written in a way where I *can't quite tell* if they are real or not. The too obvious hoax letters/time wasters get put on the bottom of the answer pile, but will get a personal reply from us eventually. It will be a standard formal business letter, not a form letter, and will be signed personally by me, with my real name and contact info.. (Oh, and in case anyone is wondering if I am making this comment during work time - nope, I am home sick with the cold that will not go away.)
posted by gudrun at 7:42 AM on March 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

Someone in our big family was always eating the cashews out of the mixed nuts can. I couldn't believe I hadn't got there first so I wrote Planters to complain about the paucity of cashews. They sent me a giant can of just cashews. My older brother, the 13 year old delinquent, saw how well this worked, and wrote to a cigarette manufacturer saying he found a large wood splinter in his cigarette, and they mailed him a carton.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:04 AM on March 3, 2009

Dag, netbros, get out of my brain! cjorgensen yesterday sent me a quick memail about a site he'd found that was similar to jackassletters, and I was writing to thank him, and thinking of doing a Lazlo-Toth-themed FPP which would include that one and jackassletters. (I didn't even see jackassletters on projects)

Thanks for getting here first!
posted by not_on_display at 8:27 AM on March 3, 2009

I always write product manufacturers (or stop in store) when something isn't right. Maybe it's because I'm interested in consumer issues. Or maybe it's because I'm just getting old and cranky. I always get a response from food manufacturers (Con Agra, Kraft, etc.) with a coupon for a replacement product. Zatarains is the best. I got a box of bad product and a week later I received about $10 worth of product coupons. Now that inspires loyalty.

Chain restaurants are the worst responders, and I've written about a dozen. Someone took a giant shit on the floor beside my wife and I's table at Red Lobster and I never heard back from the company. I probably could have gone back to the restaurant after our shock wore off and harangued the manager, but I hate to do that kind of stuff when I'm angry and we decided to never step foot back in there after our server wouldn't even acknowledge what happened.

Grocery stores are also very responsive, to the point of changing store policy in fact.
posted by mrmojoflying at 8:30 AM on March 3, 2009

The more modern equivalent of these are chat window screenshots of customer service trolling, as in the I ACCIDENTALLY meme.

In the poker world, the Poker Stars customer service team is renowned for replying to every stupid email with wit and patience. CF twoplustwo thread.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:33 AM on March 3, 2009

I received a perplexing letter on Time, Inc. letterhead...

It took me a long time to realize that your letter wasn't really from Time. I was imagining the cute boy must have subscribed in your name or something. How naive am I that I've never before thought of sending person A a letter that purports to be from organization B?
posted by DU at 8:45 AM on March 3, 2009

You hoax letter writers do realize that more often than not you are just making life more difficult for some poor wage slave...

But once they deal with the funny letters, these wage slaves can go back to sailing on the easy street of real letters?

I never really understand the "don't bother the underlings" argument anyway. The corporation owns the underlings' time--that's what a salary is. It's a purchase of time. If you waste the underling's time, you waste the corporation's money. It's that simple.
posted by DU at 8:48 AM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Outrageously Yours by Bruce West is a very entertaining Canadian take on this (which, I note sadly, appears to be out of print).

And worth noting is that West was doing this about fifteen years before any of the others I see mentioned here. I also always enjoyed that West built from one to the next: after writing a letter of congratulations to Brian Mulroney on his election victory in 1984 ("due in no small part to your speechwriters and your omnipresent wife Mila") he receives back a form letter along the lines of "Dear Bruce, Thank you for taking the time to write to me to share your thoughts. As you can understand, it is not possible for me to answer each letter personally, but I am pleased to hear from the Canadian people who gave the progressive Conservative party a resounding mandate in the most recent election. Regards, Brian."

In a later letter applying to be Chief Justice of the Northwest territories or something of the sort, he mentions in passing that he is on a first-name basis with the prime minister.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:55 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I did this for Sharpie once. I wish more people did this for the job I handle now.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:10 AM on March 3, 2009

DU, yep, you definitely waste the corporation's money, but you also waste the underling's time, so from a human perspective this is not so nice. It is not a good idea to think of corporations as just monolithic beasts, in the great scheme of things. They are actually made up (or at least the vast majority of them are) of people like me and you, who are working for a living. These type of letters do waste some money, but ultimately have very little effect on the bottom line, nor do they change the corporate culture, as the top brass never see them. If you really want to effect change, then you need to change the system, not bother the worker bees. As a side note, I do not work for a big corporation. All kinds of organizations get these letters. When you waste my time, you are actually wasting your own money (assuming you are in the U.S.), because my salary is paid by U.S. tax dollars. Also, the real inquiry letters are often a whole hell of a lot of work; they are by no means easy street either. In my organization, most of us work there as a public service, our offices are usually understaffed, people are often underpaid, and it is, by and large, fairly thankless work.
posted by gudrun at 9:20 AM on March 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

took a giant shit on the floor

Wait, WHAT???

Mr. Arkham has to answer these letters, and tells me about the funny ones. But he isn't allowed to be funny back and he can't assume anything is a joke as he gets quite a few from people who are mentally ill.
posted by JoanArkham at 9:30 AM on March 3, 2009

Well first of all, very few of these letter writers are looking to "change" anything. They are more masturbating than anything else (witness the large percentage of letters that don't get any response, let alone a form letter).

And while I agree that bothering one particular person doesn't in itself effect change, that doesn't mean it's pointless. Why do activists hand out individual flyers about their issue rather than "changing the system"? Why do protesters bother drivers by disrupting traffic rather than "changing the system"? Answer: Because we're all part of "the system". Individuals are the ones that need to be convinced that change is needed. Passersby are exactly the ones that need to be informed of issues.

you definitely waste the corporation's money, but you also waste the underling's time

No, you just waste the corporation's money, because they own that time. If the underling wasn't writing a response to your funny letter, they'd be doing something else useful to the corporation. It's not like they are maintaining their personal relationships during that time, or starting a garden or whatever. (Well, they might be--but only if they themselves are wasting their employer's money.)

...the top brass never see them.

Not individual letters maybe. But at those (sadly rare) times when underlings are "bothered" en masse they sure do. And as indicated above, it isn't necessary for the top brass to be informed. They aren't going to want to change anything anyway--the top brass generally love the status quo....they're on top!

This is a common tactic during wartime, btw. False messages, decoys, etc. Gum up the comm channels. Make noise. No individual pop of static wins the war, but the sum total can suck up a lot of valuable resources.
posted by DU at 9:30 AM on March 3, 2009

DU, you admit that en masse efforts are the most effective, but also the most rare. Do you have any proof that individual gadfly hoax letter efforts historically have caused change? You seem to be saying that money talks, but, if so, these little efforts don't talk loudly enough, I suspect. They certainly don't affect where I work, but negative press sure does, let me tell you.

The change I've seen, especially in terms of trying to get organizations to go green, seems to have been effected more by taking away profit, and by organized campaigns making the whole organization look bad, rather than by gadfly hoax letter writing tactics. In terms of U.S. corporate culture, change now seems to be happening because the economy is tanking. It seems like there *might* be more accountability now, at least in the banking industry, but only because a whole lot of people, including the wealthy, are losing or have lost a whole lot of money.
posted by gudrun at 9:45 AM on March 3, 2009

My freshman year at MU, there was an RA that would send these letters out to all sorts of people. My personal favorite was the series of letters that were sent to the late Dave Thomas, of Wendy's fame. The prankster had actually started a Dave Thomas club that met at a local restaurant and set out a napkin reading "Dave" with a beer. The letters invited Dave Thomas to come enjoy a beer with his fan club.

Sadly, Dave Thomas died before he was able to come have beer with us.

The prankster is now a resident at the Mayo Clinic, that clever bastard.
posted by schyler523 at 9:52 AM on March 3, 2009

Dear Prank Letter Writers:

Stop wasting time sending prank letters to top-tier celebrities and high-ranking politicians. You will either get no response, or get a boiler-plate response that fails to acknowledge anything you said.

Prank letters sent to businesses and corporations (especially of the "I have an idea" or "I have a complaint" ilk) will customarily bear the most fruit.

Hope this helps.

Jeremy B


Dear Jeremy B:

Thanks for your letter. We are always happy to receive comments from our readers. Please accept this special bookmark as a token of our appreciation for your support.

Prank Letter Writers
posted by jeremy b at 9:53 AM on March 3, 2009

Once again, where are you getting the idea that a gadfly letter is trying to change anything? These look more like entertainment, some minorly political some not, than anything else.

That said, you admit yourself that "organized campaigns making the whole organization look bad" can work. Asking hard questions and then posting the response for the world to see can't accomplish that?

All the other things you mention require recruitment of helpers which again comes down to individuals. Does it really matter if the individuals are phoning congresspeople to legislate vs phoning corporations to jam the enemy (in however small a way)?
posted by DU at 9:55 AM on March 3, 2009

And worth noting is that West was doing this about fifteen years before any of the others I see mentioned here.

Novello was perfecting his craft during the 1970s.
posted by caddis at 9:57 AM on March 3, 2009

Three hoax letter threads in less than two weeks!

And worth noting is that West was doing this about fifteen years before any of the others I see mentioned here.

This is where I insert a shameless plug for my FPP
posted by ob at 10:06 AM on March 3, 2009

DU, you are also missing the point a bit. I do indeed realize a lot of these letters are done for entertainment and/or are masturbatory (ewww, thanks for that thought, since I get some of these letters, after all.) However, some are not. Again, note that I get some of these letters to answer. I am also not saying that I have not found some of them funny.

My point is that "the enemy" is us. Us vs. them often does not effect change. Getting "them" to realize they are indeed "us" can cause change. For just one example, no one wants to eat that cute dophin with their tuna, not the corporate CEO, not the workers at the canning factory. If you get people to see the issue like that, then change happens. I am bowing out of this, since I think I've stated my case enough and don't want to hijack this thread (I also desperately need to go take a nap so I can go back to work tomorrow.)
posted by gudrun at 10:08 AM on March 3, 2009

These look more like entertainment, some minorly political some not, than anything else.

Entertaining yourself at the expense of someone who is professionally obliged to be polite to you strikes me as an extremely low form of entertainment.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:22 AM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think gudrun works for fleshlight.
posted by frecklefaerie at 10:32 AM on March 3, 2009

The letters are not bad, but the little "reaction" note, in which he explains his jokes after each, is ruinous.

I have noticed this a lot in internet humour. Another board I am on has sporadic outbreak of the perpetual "combine two movie titles" meme. Each time, all possible humour from a movie title like Girls Just Want to Have Fun With Dick and Jane is carefully extracted by means of an explanatory note patiently elucidating that this is a combination of Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Fun With Dick and Jane.

I imagine that when I mention Tank Girl, Interrupted or something, other readers there find themselves unable to grasp how I formed this.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:41 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another board I am on has sporadic outbreak of the perpetual "combine two movie titles" meme. ... I imagine that when I mention Tank Girl, Interrupted or something, other readers there find themselves unable to grasp how I formed this.

This meme amuses me - though I found it more difficult to employ than I expected. The best I could come up with was The Cider House Rules of Attraction.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:58 AM on March 3, 2009

a friend once wrote to an airline to complain about an in-flight meal that was infested with ants. a few weeks later he got a reply from a mid-level executive with the sincerest of apologies. also in the envelope was his original letter with a note attached to it which read "linda, send this dumb shit the bug letter".
posted by kitchenrat at 11:01 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Kitchenrat, I hate to be "that guy", but...
posted by JoanArkham at 11:12 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

No reply, Mr. Haughey?
posted by dr_dank at 11:29 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

netbros inspired the Avery Soda letter with this comment.

The Lightworker/Spirit Master was inspired by mrgrimm's FPP.

I actually get many ideas from meta.

Alright now, sorry about the ads. There should have never been more than 2 google ads on any given page. This didn't seem too onerous to me. The rest of the ads should be for books relating to what I am doing on the site. Not that it matters, but I think the vast majority of them are only available used, so I get no kickback from these sales. I've yet to generate an amazon sale off the site. They are there as an acknowledgment that others have done this before me.

As a side note, for me they were also part of the gag, since, for example, a lot of times a Wal-Mart ad appears on the page bitching about Wal-mart. This amuses me. I also signed up as a "Hooked On Phonics," and "Letters from Santa" affiliate for the same reason.

Regardless, I've pulled nearly all of them.

Next, availablelight, I get stupid ideas for websites all the time. I also cut my head and beard hair about 3 times a year, so I got the idea of do exactly what was in the letter. Cracking wise about a company while wearing their shirt. I figured a blog that gets updated 3 times a year would be funny in itself, so I sent Matt that letter. This guy is making $66,000 a year doing it. Matt did let me know he got the letter.

damehex, your comment would be fair criticism if I was intending those sections to be funny. I tried to make them visually unobtrusive, and they come last, so they're easily skipped. I spoke with a copyright lawyer shortly after the outset of this project, and by having the commentary/criticism section I am afforded another legal protection. I don't exactly like this part either (which is why they are usually short). I've had two University professors tell me they are using my material in their classes, including this section, so that amuses me as well. Yes, I am easily amused.

And as to the people who think this is underling abuse, I have four counter arguments. 1. I get a lot of responses from people higher up. I'm pretty sure this one was actually answered by Archbishop of Canterbury himself. (I've written back confessing the whole thing, and as a warming the poems linked from that post are NSFW.) 2. While many of these letters are piss takes, many actually contain valid complaints or social commentary. At the time I wrote the Alpo one the Dow was quite high (and yes, I realize they have nothing to do with it, but having that letter on my website is more effective in my mind than writing 100 politicians). When I wrote the Pope asking to bring indulgences back I had no idea they would. 3. You'd really have to convince me that these abused underlings are really being so badly abused. One letter in amongst all the others can't be that horrible, since as already pointed out many of these just get form responses. Also, you'd have to convince me that some of these letters wouldn't be the highlight of some drone's day. I know I like to imagine my letter to Warren Buffett is hanging in some cubicle. I have the freedom to say what a lot of these underlings are thinking. And 4. There's no obligations to respond or even be nice. I'm easily ignored. This is postal mail we're talking about. I'm not the crazy guy on the phone calling every 20 minutes. I'm not emailing every contact I can find in the company. "'m writing letters.

I'm not really trying to defend the idea though. I'm not the first, won't be the last.

ob, My Willie Donaldson bio arrived yesterday. Thanks for making that post. Never thought I'd idolize a crack addict.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:51 AM on March 3, 2009

So, is this a secret job creation endeavor - to generate work for corporate responders? Avery's Beverages' response was excellent! But isn't this site just another case of Americans falling behind the south asians in useful productive activity? Shouldn't you be buying Chrysler or something instead?
posted by canoer at 12:02 PM on March 3, 2009

love the site and thanks for the other links people.
i worked as a consumer affairs rep once. had i gotten
more of these letter my days there would have been
much more happier :)
posted by liza at 12:11 PM on March 3, 2009

If I had gudrun's job, I would welcome the receipt of JackAssLetters for their entertainment value as well as an opportuniuty to do a little creative (but necessarily subtle) writing in response. I'd even put together a specific form letter response for prankers that would pass bureaucratic muster but one-up them on ridiculousness.

For any truly ridiculous product idea, I'd respond "Thank you for your suggestion. Unfortunately, it is very similar to a concept we have already pursued that did not make it past preliminary market testing. Focus groups can be surprisingly cruel (also litigious; who knew? but I am not at liberty to explain further)."
posted by wendell at 12:36 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have to say it's disconcerting to see one's self as a post tag. I also think netbros forgot the "wtf" and "batshitinsane" tags, but he's probably just being nice.

I do understand gudrun's concerns, but I also tend to write companies that I really like or companies that have irritated me. So in the latter case I am not going to feel bad, and in the former I hope the letters do come off as fanboyish. Also, from looking over my list of companies and individuals, I don't think many are in the category of obligatory responses.

I've gotten email from a couple individuals claiming they work for the company that I've written, and that I would have gotten a response if I wasn't so obvious in my letters (both these were sent from gmail accounts, so I have no way of knowing if it's true).

And having these letters on the internet changes the game in my opinion. A simple google search of my name reveals the joke. Out of the first 7 results, 6 mention the site.

And as to getting things changed, well, I have had one company adjust the time on their server at corporate so that the computers in their restaurants actually reflect real time, so people can get the advertised specials up to the time advertised. And I know Lazlo Toth got "the owners of the Giants actually tried Toth’s suggestion for Pac Bell Park — to use water dogs to fetch fly balls from the bay."

And while a lot of the letters are pure jackassery, you can't tell me that my letter to Snickers wasn't spot on.

And I wanted to point out not_on_display featured my site over on Mefi User Sites some time ago.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:59 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

You'd really have to convince me that these abused underlings are really being so badly abused. ... There's no obligations to respond or even be nice.

At my own company, we are required to reply to every e-mail - even the blatantly abusive ones. And we are most certainly required to do so politely. So I encourage you to check your assumptions about that.

To be sure, your goofing is not the worst experience the "underlings" [who perhaps might prefer to be addressed by a less demeaning term] will have dealing with the public. And they might even share a laugh over it with co-workers. But the fact remains that you are consciously exploiting the power differential between you and them for a purely selfish end. Either that raises an ethical red flag for you or it doesn't.

But I think that your taking advantage of the uneven playing field is poor sportsmanship. And I think your making unnecessary busywork for someone trying to do their job is poor manners.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:27 PM on March 3, 2009

ob, My Willie Donaldson bio arrived yesterday. Thanks for making that post. Never thought I'd idolize a crack addict.

Fantastic. Enjoy!
posted by ob at 2:02 PM on March 3, 2009

Joe Beese, these aren't email. They are physical letters sent through the mail. In my mind this is an important distinction. I could be pestering every one under the sun with email and on the phone. I'm not. I fire off one letter (super seldom there will be a follow-up). I really doubt any one's day was turned to a world of shit just because they got one of my letters (the opposite I hope). If I worked a job that got me so bent out of shape that I felt abused over what should often obviously be a joke, I'd reconsider my career choices and how I dealt with stress.

Sorry you work for a company that requires you to politely respond to abusive email. I think I'd be looking for new work tomorrow. And it's not an assumption. I've been doing this long enough to know there are no patterns to the replies. I don't do better with government or corporate, and often the letters I don't expect a reply to I get, and the ones I am sure will get an answer are ignored. My highest response rate happens to be from overseas companies, so go figure.

I do agree with you on the use of the word "underlings." Though this isn't how I conceive of the person getting the letter. I think of the company as a whole when I am writing (unless it is an individual). I even address the letters to the companies as an entity. I was only continuing the use of the word as used previously in this thread.

It's ironic that almost any form of humor exploits someone. Ask 5 of your friends to tell you their favorite joke, and I bet you see 4/5 denigrating some segment of the population. I'm sorry you see what I am doing as exploitation. I don't.

These letters, even if they weren't shared, are a chance for an organization to engage one of its customers. Even without the site I'd probably still consider writing some of these letters. I might even take the same tone. I know the responses, or lack of, have influenced where and how I shop. And I don't want to take on the role of activist, but I don't see how writing "Best Buy" and asking how they justify their name when they are seldom the best buy is being abusive. It's the truth as I perceive it, and I gave them a chance to change my mind. I don't see how writing the NRA and asking if anyone has pried the gun from Charlton Heston's cold dead hands yet is abusive (and even if you do convince me of this, you'll have to convince me to care about the NRA). Yes it was cathartic to write Dr. Phil and call him a "talentless hack" right after his show bailed out a teenager that video taped the beating of another teenager. I don't see how I am to feel bad for any of these.

In fact, going down my list of letters, I wrote Philadelphia Cream Cheese and said I liked their product (I do), Bacardi and said I like their design (I do), Christian Dior and asked them what they were thinking of having Sharon Stone as a spokeswoman (I mean seriously, this is like having Gary Busey as a babysitter). I could go on.

Sure, there are some in there that are just stupid, some even offensive, and yes, I probably wasted a small portion of someone's day, and I guess if there's a pattern to be seen it's with these.

Regardless of my motivation for writing, and regardless of who is on the receiving end, these letters are a chance for a company to engage in good customer service. I repeat these stories, post them on a website, and this give entities a chance to get their message out to at least one person. Companies pay money to do this with advertising every day.

I can appreciate you not seeing the value in this, and probably also view it as masturbatory (as DU up thread called it), and that's fine.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:49 PM on March 3, 2009

I used to write hoax cover letters to my potential employers in hopes of landing a creative job.

I did this until I received a desperate reply from one business man actually believing that I was a recent lottery winner and told me a sob story of how his business was failing and needed a boost from someone like me.

I felt guilty about the whole thing and stopped my fooling around.
posted by joelf at 3:07 PM on March 3, 2009

joelf, I generally refuse to out and out lie in my letters. I was a computer lab monitor for a University for years. I had to sit through the same business and technical writing class 5 times a week for 12 semesters.

One of the instructors had an assignment where he required students to write a complaint letter to a corporation. The students were required to do the research as to who they would write, find the address, write the letter using business standards. They had to turn in an addressed envelope and the letter to go with it. He told them they needed to come up with valid complaints. Things they were unhappy with, things they thought could be made better, changes they desired to see.

He sent them all.

One of the jokers writes GM (or some other car company) a letter about how he bought a used car from them, and as he was pulling out of the dealership the axle broke. He was saying they were refusing to refund his money, etc. It turned into a pretty big deal with him being called at home, people asking for the name of the dealership, etc.

So I may get silly, but I am not lying.

If I remember correctly the students were told these letters would be sent in their syllabi, so it wasn't completely evil on the instructor's part.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:29 PM on March 3, 2009

joanarkham: thanks. a friend told me that story in the pre-post it notes late 60's and i never questioned it. it's a good story, though, whether or not it was original when he told it.
posted by kitchenrat at 5:18 PM on March 3, 2009

As a professional answerer-of-politicians'-mail, I am totally willing to accept this sort of abuse if it means that Rep. Steve King's staff has to do the same. God does he ever deserve it.
posted by naoko at 8:55 PM on March 3, 2009

naoko, Yay! I am glad I am not the only one that feels this way. I also feel a bit lonely on my Dennis Miller and Bill O’Reilly letters. And I really hope some staff member that agrees with me got these letters.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:06 PM on March 3, 2009

« Older Cast in Stone   |   Camilo José Vergara Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments