Ecommerce and Entrepreneurship Blog | About | Contact | Store

That's Freaking Spam-tastic: Requires Customers to Opt-In to Advertising When Ordering Online

Posted on March 6, 2008 by Tim

At the end of my senior year of high school I was awarded "Scholar Athlete", which came with a certificate published on an ink jet printer and something like $500 bucks.  Now, even though this was pre-steroid scandal, the award is pretty deceiving.  I'm way more scholar than I am athlete.  All the real jocks were, how do I put this lightly, academically challenged.  I think the athletics department just picked the student with the highest GPA, as long as he or she played any sport.  I played on the golf and tennis teams.  Well, actually, I "used" the golf team.  If you joined the golf team, you got to play at all the great local courses, for free, as often as you liked and use the driving range, for free, until they shut off the lights.  I didn't care as much about our team, which wasn't that great anyway, as I did about free golf.

Hang with me, eCommerce-ville just ahead.

The scholar athlete award is so deceiving that heading to college, I couldn't have cared less about sports.  However, once I stepped foot on USC's campus and started mainlining the Koolaid, my metamorphosis into a college football feen went full throttle.  Long story short, now I'm a massive USC football fan.  This addiction has led me to become a huge college football fan.  Being a college football fan means I hang out with people who like pro football; which means I end up watching the Super Bowl.  Inevitably, I annually find myself inhaling a carb-infused feast known as pizza.  It's a natural downward spiral.

Hooray, entering eCommerce-ville!  Population: Many hungry sports fans.

Integrating Offline Advertising with Search Engine Marketing

Following the Super Bowl earlier this month, there's been some interesting chit chat in the blogoshphere discussing how well companies integrated their Super Bowl television commercials with their online presence.  With cost estimates for 30 second spots swirling up to $3 million, it seems critical for advertisers to take full advantage of their commercial exposure by intimately assimilating their online arenas.  After the game, Reprise Media published their 4th annual Search Marketing Scorecard (SMS) which ranks companies who buy Super Bowl commercials by their ability to integrate those commercials with their online presence in order to metric how prepared each company is to capitalize on online interest.  A healthy portion of the conversation has been centered around how the Super Bowl advertisers fared from a website visibility perspective.  More specifically, this conversation has analyzed URL visibility in the commercials, mentioning the URL, displaying or calling out the URL prominently, showing website screenshots and the advertiser's ability to drive traffic to their website.  Another notable portion of the conversation has centered around a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) perspective.  The SEO conversation has analyzed whether advertiser's sites appear in search engine results for branded and non branded phrases associated with the campaign.  For anyone that did not catch the Super Bowl advertisements, Fox created a MySpace page housing all of the advertisements.  Although Fox and MySpace are siblings, both parented by News Corp., the general consensus seems to be that a more strategic SEO move would have been for Fox to host the commercial content on their own domain.  MySpace seems to be doing just fine on the traffic front.

Wait, isn't this post supposed to be about Pizza Hut and email advertising?  Why are we still talking about the Super Bowl?  Hold your horses!  eCommerce-ville has needs.  You can't just rush in.  Where's the foreplay?

Order Online: A Call to Action

All this "Which Super Bowl advertisers ruled and which ones sucked?" conversation reminded me why I'm glad that I'm a college football fan.  Not only do I think college football is superior (trigger flood of hate mail), but, in general, many of the sponsors' advertising campaigns are better as well.  Case in point: Papa John's.  Papa John's sponsored the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, aptly titled the 2007 Bowl.  Not only did Papa John's plaster their URL (not just their name) on just about every single piece of marketing that made reference to the game, from the BCS' website to the banner across the televised broadcast, but plenty of the marketing included the call-to-action "Order Online" underneath the Bowl's title.  Even the giant Papa John's logos all over the field were stamped with the instruction to "Order Online".

Now, it doesn't take a marketing research guru to figure out that Papa John's may have had a spike in sales during the Papa John's Bowl due to their sponsorship.  However, the higher level long term branding initiatives are a much more interesting discussion.  It's well known that using a strong call-to-action in Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaigns is an optimization strategy that, in general, improves the quality and performance of advertising campaigns, without raising costs.  Not only is Papa John's use of a call-to-action capitalizing on this strategy, their implementation in an offline channel generates online traffic while lowering overhead conversion costs.  The costs associated with executing an online transaction are likely markedly less than transactions performed over the phone.  Moreover, every order placed online provides an opportunity for Papa John's to build their email marketing list, up sell and cross sell in an automated fashion, and generate increased loyalty with those who have a positive customer experience.  As such, the "Order Online" mantra may be less about customer acquisition and more about customer retention and market share growth.

Their SEO efforts seem to be in tune as well.  For the searches order pizza online and pizza order online, Papa John's ranks first.  Along with the bowl game sponsorship,  Papa John's created an entire site,, dedicated to the game and chock full of content.

Eureka!  Our destination!  A conversation about Pizza Hut!  The title of this post does apply!!!

No Opt-In, No Pizza For You

Don't you hate it when you're creating an account on a website so that you can place an order and right before you check "I Agree" to the Terms of Use, you have to UNCHECK, "I Agree" for you to send me a bunch of crap.  Well, Pizza Hut took that annoyance to a whole new level.

The week before the super bowl, my wife mentioned that we had a couple unused Pizza Hut gift cards that had been magneted to our refrigerator for over a year.  She was under the impression that the card's value begins to depreciate one year after purchase (If true, don't even get me started on this issue!).  Perfect!  We had a super bowl party to attend, so we decided to donate to the cause.  Since Super Bowl Sunday is like the biggest pizza ordering day, I dropped the gift cards off at my friends house the night before the game so we could get our order in before the frenzy.  We grab the mac book, find the codes on the gift cards, and head to  After spending time starring at the coupons, figuring out the promotions, figuring out how many bodies we need to feed and filling up our shopping cart, we end up at that account creation page.  After filling out a bunch of data, we get to the bottom of the form and see this: customer sign up page


WHAT?!?!  Are you serious?  Really Pizza Hut?  Really?  You can't be.  This can't be right.  I really can't buy your product online unless I agree to receive your junk mail?  There's no check to opt-in, LET ALONE AN UNCHECK TO OPT-OUT?

Let me get this right.  In order to order pizza online from I MUST "agree to receive information about Pizza Hut®/WingStreet® coupons, promotions, announcements, events and specials".  Are you freaking kidding me?  Refresh!  This must be a mistake.  No, even better, they must have been hacked by a competitor.  Dominoes... you sneaky, sneaky, guys (KIDDING, no calls from lawyers).  I was absolutely floored.  Now, I have no idea how easy it is to opt-out of the "information", once the "coupons, promotions, announcements, events and specials" start flooding in since my buddy refused to create an account.  I'm imagining the subject of an email right now: "WingStreet Wings: So Damn Good, You'll Never Unsubscribe, So Why Give You the Option?".

In scanning the policies, I couldn't quite figure out how they were going to advertise to me.  Is it email, snail mail, text, pizza delivery boy stopping by, blimp, tattoo?  Also, I don't know why there is a "Pizza Hut Terms of Use and Privacy Policy" and a "WingStreet® Terms of Use and Privacy Policy".  Both of the Terms of Use links land on the same page ( and both of the Privacy Policy links land on the same page (  Neither of the documents make it clear whether they are the "Pizza Hut" docs or the "WingStreet" docs.  The account creation form requires several pieces of information, including: email address, street address and phone number.  Other types of information are optional, like a cell phone number.  While I was wondering what channels and mediums this "information" would come via, I came across some great content in the Privacy Policy.  My favorite part of the policy is reproduced below: Policies

Hilarious!  I love it.  They say "For those who initially opted-in to receive future offers or promotional materials or to allow the sharing of Personal Information with third parties may subsequently opt-out as follows".  Ummm, by "For those who" do you mean "everyone who bought online" since it's impossible to not "initially" opt-in?  Underneath that, the policy provides instructions on how to opt-out of email and text message communications, which implies they advertise via both of these mediums assuming you cough up your cell phone number.  I'm guessing they advertise to the street address as well.  For perspective, it looks like Papa John's let's you opt-out of both email advertising (by unchecking) and text message advertising (by not checking).

Since we thought this was a terrible policy, didn't want to end up on their advertising lists, didn't want to have to figure out opting out later and didn't want to deal with a bunch of junk mail until we could get off their lists, we closed our browser and called our order in over the phone.  We would have gone to a competitor if we didn't already have the gift cards.

This experience raises at least two serious concerns.  First, it completely eliminated all of the value mentioned above that could have been created by an online order.  Since we called in, conversion costs increased, Pizza Hut will never have the opportunity to add our email address to their marketing lists (via a check or a non-uncheck), they will never have the chance to up sell or cross sell to us in an automated fashion, they have completely obliterated any loyalty we had and they provided an utterly terrible customer experience.  Moreover, their customer retention and market share numbers just dwindled by a body count of two (my friend and I).  Second, the strategy that Pizza Hut is utilizing makes me wonder if most users don't notice what they're getting themselves into and if this is what Pizza Hut is shooting for.  Well known practice in eCommerce is to force a customer to agree to a sites general terms of use in order to transact on that site.  Sometimes, at the same time a user is agreeing to the Terms of Use, a second, optional, opportunity is provided that allows the the customer to opt-in to advertising.  If only one option is given, it is by and large a Terms of Use agreement.  Therefore, if a customer only sees one option, and doesn't read the details, they assume that they are agreeing to a sites Terms of Use, and that no option to opt-in to advertising exists, let alone that they are opting in if they agree to the Terms of Use.

By the way, in the past, I've been a big fan of Pizza Hut's crust.  This time, we went for the Pizza Mia's.  I have to say, I was definitely disappointed.  Icing on the cake...

Well, so long for today eCommerce-ville.  The sun is setting on you once again.  It's been a good visit.  A long one, but a good one.  Next fall during football season (college or pro) when I order pizza online, it's Papa John's all the way.




blog comments powered by Disqus