Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Standing O for LifeLock.

I just had a look at LifeLock, those "This is my real social security number" people. Frankly - and probably like you - I assumed that it was a stunt, and what was said in bold red at the top was completely negated with the small print at the bottom.

Come to think of it, it's damn depressing how complacent we have become in accepting as a given that any service we get from any corporation should be written as "Service*".

Now that I think of it, it's a little embarrassing to realize that it took the promise of $12.00 from a trusted third party to even get me to look, but I plead 40 years of disappointment in my fellow man as my reason.

Fortunately for them, their actual cost will be two dollars, for ten of those promised dollars will pay for my first month of their service.

Why? Well, you don't often read advertising copy like this:

If your Identity is stolen while you are a member of LifeLock, we're going to do whatever it takes to recover your good name. If you need lawyers, we're going to hire the best we can find. If you need investigators, accountants, case managers, whatever, they're yours. If you lose money as a result of the theft, we're going to give it back to you.

We will do whatever it takes to help you recover your good name and we will spend up to $1,000,000 to do it.

We don't think you will see a guarantee like this anywhere else from any other company. If you do, let us know because we'd like to do business with them. There isn't much fine print in our Guarantee. To see the details, click here.

Any half-decent lawyer will tell you the reason why you should never ever EVER write something as direct and unqualified as this. You WILL have to live up to those words in court, and they will bury you in frightening examples of the consequences of unwise and unguarded words costing businesses hundreds and thousands of words.

One of the examples I remember most clearly from my journalism and advertising courses is the case of a car dealer who promised that during his "Jungle Madness" sale, you could drive away in a new car for "just a thousand bananas."

Sure enough, someone showed up with a lawyer and one thousand fresh, golden, LITERAL Chiquitas.

They were very over-ripe bananas by the time his lawyer was sent from court by a laughing judge and a snickering jury, but that just added fruit flies to injury.

Speaking of contractual language, I'm in violation of the terms of the agreement by being clear about this being a paid post within the post and it would be technically possible for them to refuse to pay, or request a re-write. You see, they didn't want me to call attention to the fact they paid me to do this - no doubt because they are as cynical as I am for pretty much the same reasons.

It's tempting to gloss over the fact that it took the smell of money to get me to write this - but I'd prefer to be honest, and use the risk of not being paid to underline what is my real reason for going so far beyond the 200 words requested. This, you see, is no longer about that.

These are the sort of people you should absolutely do business with, even if you don't absolutely need to. And I'm not embarrassed at all to be seen doing business with people like this. Hell, if they write employment contracts and job descriptions like they do websites, they might actually be the sort of people I'd be willing to work for.

That advertising copy above is the reason. They have deliberately created conditions they will have to live up to.

That lack of weasel-wording, the complete absence of equivocation, the blunt promise of "Whatever it takes, up to a million bucks" is damn refreshing.

If you believe in the idea of the free market, as I do, and believe that it absolutely depends on people who are not just willing, but absolutely determined to play fair, then you need to sweeten the pot for them. You have to choose to deal with people who are willing to stand by their word, live up to their obligations and go the extra mile. You also have to start expecting that standard from everyone else, with no excuses.

Putting binding promises into one's advertising copy inspires in me ten thousand times the deep warm fuzzies that can be derived from a kiloton of adhesive imitation chrome fish.

The promise implied by a chrome fish over the door of a place of business is one that cannot be enforced in a temporal court of law, one not even as impressive as membership in the BBB.

Todd Davis - well I don't know what or who else he believes in - but he surely does believe in the sort of fish you could fry in front of the ninth circuit court and it's a big enough fish to feed a multitude.

I can count on the fingers of one thumb the number of times I've had the legitimate opportunity to say something as nice as this about anything regarding the economy or the practices of American business institutions. I've gotten so damn jaded and cynical, so bleak and depressed that frankly it's become difficult to blog.

What started out as a five minute, money-making chore turned out to take a couple hours of utterly blissful wordsmithing and the high point of my day. And that, Mr. 457-55-5462, is worth ten bucks to me. Hell, it's worth twelve.

I would love to be able to write a story like this every week, and have every word be true and as heartfelt as these. I'm rubbing your nose in the fact that AT THE MOST, I was paid $12.00, in response to the obvious rhetorical question.

My skills are for sale, my my good name is not. Even if it WAS, it would take a minimum of five more decimal places plus benefits, a golden parachute and a pension to compromise my virginity in that respect.

One should should set one's price high enough that it discourages temptation. And I'm afraid that many "persons of significance" have lowered the bar to a point where even minimal standards make a decent assessment of self worth seem positively inflationary.

But it's nice to be recognized for a job done well and honestly. One of the few ways I'm sure something I've said has been read and appreciated is the sound of virtual coin clinking into my PayPal account. Money, as Robert Heinlein said, is the sincerest form of applause.

And by that means and in the same spirit I am suggesting to you that you give Lifelock a standing ovation. "Pour le encouragur le autres"


hawa said...

Did you see the story at about the man who copied the publicized SSN (from the LifeLock guy) and took out a $500 loan?

I can't find the old story link, but I'm sure Google will run to the rescue.

Bob King said...

Yeah, I heard about it. Then I figured out that there have probably been dozens, if not thousands of attempts. In essence, it's his system test.

Of course, I'm sure he's not stopping at a million bucks - but for him, it's a write-off. And most of us don't dare identity thieves for publicity and practice.

Oh, and you could also look at it as "thinning the herd." "We catch the stupid ones so you won't have to."

Puteri said...

That's a great post. Hope PPP and LifeLock see the whole picture for your decision to disclose it was a paid post.

Bob King said...

When I said that I don't care, I really don't. :) I also stumbled across the fact that they are in litigation with various credit reporting agencies who claim that LifeLock places an unwarrented strain upon their services.

Of course, LifeLock is in fact using the same means of reporting and credit detection you could - for free. If you knew about it, and had the resources to keep track of it all.

They also tell you that, up front, before you click to pay, and provide links.

There are lots of things I could do myself, for free. Some things I will do - like change my own tires. Some things I will not do, even though I'm nearly sure I could - like service my own propane appliances.

The "worst case scenario" if I screw it up is worth the price of swallowing my manly pride.

In some occasions, opposable thumbs are not enough. This is one of those occasions.

Now this particular service is offered by a great number of people these days, so you can take much of the above as speaking about an industry as a whole. But then it comes back to the question of trusting someone else to do what you aren't sure you could or should do.

In those cases, the assumption of reasonable liablity for failure up front (and with a reasonable limitation on that liablity) is the sort of thing. "Trust me, I'm a professional," ain't enough.

I want "You can trust me in this case, precisely this much - now compare me with the competition."

And that's what LifeLock offers.


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