Saturday, 4 September 2010

Will You Find Cynicism Inside This Paper?

Here's the front page of today's Daily Mail.

We'll ignore the headline about today's tax screw-up and the picture of Samantha and Florence Cameron (complete with an unfunny caption which could easily have been printed in The Sun) to concentrate on the big purple promotional banner at the top. Look! We might find £20 inside this very paper! Or a fiver! Or a tenner! Quick, let's buy a copy! Let's get two! If we buy enough copies, our right hand could look just like the hand on the left! I mean, there has to be some dosh in some of these copies, 'cause they say so themselves at the top: "WE'VE PUT REAL CASH IN TENS OF THOUSANDS OF COPIES OF TODAY'S MAIL".

I first became aware of this front page last evening thanks to the many retweets by StopDailyMail on Twitter. Most of these were joking about how the quality and circulation of the Daily Mail has become so low, they've resorted to bribing people into buying their own dismal newspaper. This was probably my favourite comment of all:
drivelcast How quickly can we arrange for 1000 asylum seekers to turn up at the Daily Mail offices tomorrow, waving £20 notes and shouting "Thanks!"? [1]
The next day, the following tweets by StephenFrysTree caught my eye:
StephenFrysTree @StopDailyMail None of the daily mail newspapers have anything in. No glue. Nothing. ALL OF THEM! Let everyone know [2]

StephenFrysTree WARNING! Tree colleagues have informed me that the Daily Mail is doing a money giveaway! BUT THEY'RE giving NO (cont) http://tl.gd/3fktbs [3]
At this point, my emotions quickly went from amusement to concern. Had the Daily Mail really tried to trick people into buying today's Daily Mail by tempting them with the false promise of potentially winning free money? If this was a real scam designed to boost sales without giving away any prizes, surely they would be breaking some code of conduct? This claim of missing envelopes was later reproduced by Pearlyyy:
Pearlyyy @StopDailyMail ha! Guess what :') I went into work this morning and there was no enevelopes for free money, in ANY of the newspapers! [4]
Those who follow me on Twitter will already know of my contempt for the Daily Mail and there was no way I was going to buy a copy of today's newspapers to find out what they were up to. Fortunately, the Daily Mail website has published a poorly written page entitled "You will win" which, as much as I detest linking to their website, can be found here. Below is an extract from this page:

Wll you find £20 in your Daily Mail on Saturday September 4?

Millions of cash prizes must be won in our new game!

Is there £20 inside your Mail today? Or £10? Or £5? Simply buy the Daily Mail on Saturday September 4 to find out.
We've hidden REAL banknotes in tens of thousands of copies of the Daily Mail on Satuday [sic] September 4, 2010.
To find out if you've won, open Weekend Magazine and then open the silver money bag you'll find inside.
And don't worry if there's no money inside, because it's guaranteed that EVERY READER will win a cash prize in our fabulous Match 3 Game.
Your Match 3 Game Card is inside the silver money bag.
Start playing this fantastically simple game and you're GUARANTEED to win anythng [sic] between £5 and £100,000. You just can't lose - so open your money bag now!
 ...
Look on Page 17 of Weekend Magaizne [sic] to find your silver bag. If it is not on Page 17, it will be loose elsewhere in the Magazine. If you cannot find it, then write in to the above address and one will be sent to you.
So here we find the crux of the matter. It's not just random lucky silver envelopes inserted into the paper to bribe people into buying it, it's a promotion to this "Match 3 Game" thing they've got going on. I'm guessing this is run by some dubious third party who'll probably sell on your contact details and send junk mail to your home and try to get you to part with some of your money. It's an obvious sponsorship deal between Associated Newspapers and whoever the hell that company is. In return for an undisclosed amount of money, the Daily Mail stuffs junk into the weekend supplement and promotes it on the front page. Most publications do this all the time. The article above does go on to explain how this Match 3 competition works but it's too complicated and irrelevant to the subject for me to reproduce here.

It seems that the Daily Mail hasn't done anything against the rules; they did say that "WE'VE PUT REAL CASH IN TENS OF THOUSANDS OF COPIES OF TODAY'S MAIL", not EVERY copy of today's Mail, after all. It's possible that, if the "Weekend Magaizne" comes sealed up in a plastic wrapping, that a manufacturing error at the factory resulted in the absence thousands of envelopes. (Alternatively, some dirty smelly illegal immigrant on benefits could have nicked all the envelopes in all the copies that StephenFrysTree and Pearlyyy found). If there happened to be a widescale incidence of missing envelopes, then it would be worth writing a complaint to the ASA asking for an investigation into the matter.

Fraudulent or not, I still find this whole saga rather deceptive. If you wanted to find out more about this offer of free cash beforehand, you'd need to actually buy the paper to read the small print (or search for it online like I did). I highly doubt that any publication would just give away money to their customers without attaching some strings first. Nevertheless, there's a lot of vulnerable people out there aren't likely to think, "Wait a minute, there has to be a catch here, I'm not going to buy into this," but rather think, "Ooh! Free money!" and fall into the trap. Vulnerable people like this:
Christy1981 Well the daily mail's 'Free Cash' offer fooled a girl with learning difficulties I know into buying a load of copies. Low, even for them. [5]
Free money? Highly unlikely. Illegal? Probably not. Cynical? Very yes.

EDIT (15:02): I've only just realised this but I can't seem to find any details of exactly how much of each monetary value they've given away on the online article mentioned above. Perhaps this information was printed inside the supplement. But let's assume from the purple banner's claim of "TENS OF THOUSANDS OF COPIES OF TODAY'S MAIL" that there were a minimum of 10,000 winning envelopes given away. As of July 2010, the Daily Mail has a headline circulation of 2,117,839, which we'll round up to 2,118,000 for simplification. This would mean the probablity of winning one of these lucky envelopes is about 0.00472 (to 3 significant figures), or 1 in every 212 copies. With a copy of the Daily Mail currently at 50p, you'd probably need to spend £106 to win up to £20, giving you a minimum possible loss of £86. But hey, there's always the Match 3 Game!

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