Steal This Look: Using Social Security Benefits as a Marketing Front

A blog about business and economics.
Aug. 9 2013 11:00 AM

Steal This Look: Using Social Security Benefits as a Marketing Front

I am really bad at opening my mail, like Jennifer Connelly in House of Sand and Fog bad. All my bill payments are automated, and even legit-looking snail mail usually hides nothing more enticing than a Discover Card offer inside, so the stuff tends to stack up, or get recycled indiscriminately. But this! This, I opened immediately.

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Important information about my Social Security benefits? This clearly government-issued document demanded my immediate attention! Any delay on my part might result in my husband and I living in a cardboard box on the street in our dotage. I ripped it open—or rather, I tore carefully along three perforated edges, as one would with any official paperwork worth its salt—and found this inside.

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Turns out that the “Important Information About Your Social Security benefits” is actually hiding inside a booklet that I’d need to request, ominously titled Let’s Face It Now, and while my anticipation built to Face It Now, in the meantime I could sign up for a $35-a-month gazebo-grave at the Pinelawn Memorial Park and Garden Mausoleum in Farmingdale, NY.

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Because, as mentioned, I never open my mail, I have no idea if these kinds of bait-and-switch USPS-aided moves invoking Important Information About Your Social Security Benefits are common, though a highly unscientific poll of Slate staffers indicated not. And while it’s easy to poke fun at the dated Jonathan Livingston Seagull–style cover design of Let’s Face It Now, I’ve got to hand it to the Pinelawn Memorial Park and Garden Mausoleum for deploying the bland but authoritative mail design of a monolithic American government entity and make an ordinarily resistant consumer engage with their brand. Though admittedly, if I’d looked a bit closer at the envelope, the postmark should have tipped me off.

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So what say you, Slate readers? Is this a tired direct-mail marketing trick that’s simply passed me by until now?

Jessica Winter is a Slate senior editor.