Last week (December 6, 2009, page 26), The New York Times Magazine ran a story about a promotion run by Blu Dot, a furniture maker.

Here’s how the promotion worked:  Recognizing the accepted New York tradition of picking up your neighbor’s discarded furniture from the sidewalk, Blu Dot placed its chairs next to bags of garbage throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Chair-drop locations were announced on Twitter, and photos of chair-snatchings were posted to a Flickr account.

Ok, so far this sounds like a creative marketing promotion, recognizing a local cultural habit while using contemporary marketing tools.

But there was one piece of the promotion that really bothered me.  Half of the chairs had a hidden G.P.S. transmission device, so that the chair – and its new owner – could be tracked. The idea was to follow-up with the new owners to include them in a video about the promotion.

The article described how one woman noticed the G.P.S. device and ripped it from the chair, but claims nobody else complained about this hidden “bug.” Frankly, I’m surprised, and I highly recommend that anyone who wants to duplicate this promotion ditch the G.P.S. part.

When someone accepts a free product from you they are not giving you permission to follow them home. What Blu Dot did was nothing short of spam: They used electronic means to sneak into people’s homes. No matter how much people like your product, you risk scaring them away if you try to slip surreptitiously into their lives.  It’s really bad marketing.

And, besides, it’s pretty creepy.


  • Randy Bosch
    Dec 16, 2009 - 16:30 pm

    In many cities, the trash you place “at the curb” is owned by the city (via the trash collecting agency), and removal of objects by others than the homeowner is a misdemeanor! Now THAT would be great PR for Blu Dot – aiding and abetting theft!

    • Steve Yastrow
      Dec 16, 2009 - 17:20 pm

      Yeah, aiding and abetting theft instead of aiding and abetting spam!

  • Glenn Street
    Dec 16, 2009 - 17:16 pm

    What if they had instead attached a note asking the new owner to contact the company if they wanted to be in an ad? The people who reply are willing talkers, and the company doesn’t creep the rest out.

    • Steve Yastrow
      Dec 16, 2009 - 17:21 pm

      Glenn … yes, creating permission is much better than sneaking into people’s homes! Great point, and a much better marketing idea.

  • Dan Gunter
    Dec 16, 2009 - 19:03 pm

    So much for the simple joy of giving. Bah-hum-“bug.” I could see filming the folks snatching up the chairs. That would at least be out in public (although it would still raise the question of using their likenesses without a signed release.) But tracking them home? Well beyond pushing the envelope, in my book. What next? A bluetooth device in them or a device that accesses the nearest open wireless router and gives you their cell phone number or I.P. address, too?

Leave A Reply