Saturday, January 10, 2009

Obama campaign sending out inauguration "invitations"

As the day of Obama's presidential inauguration draws new, it has been well publicized that Obama will be inviting 10 of his supporters to attend the inauguration in person as special guests. Just last week, he sent out the following email to his mailing list of supporters.

Thanks to you, President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden will take their oaths of office in just 17 days.

You helped shape history, and now you can be a part of it.

Ten supporters and their guests will be selected to come to Washington, D.C. for several days of inaugural events. You could be chosen to fly to Washington, attend the welcome ceremony, the Inaugural parade, the swearing-in, and an official Inaugural ball.


The email goes on from there. It sounds wonderful. You could possibly be flown down to DC to be a special guest. It would be the experience of a lifetime. But really, what are chances of actually being chosen.


You may have already won



Yesterday, when I got home, my wife told me that a large envelope had come in the mail for me from Barack Obama. When I picked up the envelope, the return address said it was from "The Presidential Inaugural Committee, Washington DC, 20599". As I opened the envelope, I joked with my wife: "You know, Obama is inviting 10 guests to the inauguration. He'll fly you down there and everything. Maybe he picked me". Of course, I wasn't really serious. Again, what are the chances that I'd be picked as a winner.

So, when I opened the envelope, imagine my surprise to see the following (click image to see the full size):



In short, it appears to be a letter from Barack Obama inviting the recipient to attend the inauguration. The letter is very authentic looking. Extremely high quality paper, exceptional print quality, and a very detailed embossed seal. Everything about the letter screams "THIS IS OFFICIAL". For a breif moment, as I read the opening few lines "The Presidential Inaugural Committee requests the honor of your presnse to attend and participate....", I paused in disbelief that I might actually be one of the 10 lucky winners. Of course, not the type to be tricked so easily, I knew there was a catch. I said to my wife "no....this is a trick. It's gotta be some marketing gimmick from some company cashing in on the inauguration."

As I read through the first invitation, there was no catch, so I move on to the enclosed letter. It says it requests your presence at the public events that are taking place during the inauguration, and then goes on to explain ways you can participate at home. It's got links to a couple of Obama's offical websites (www.usaservice.org and www.pic2009.org). It was lacking any sort of details about how they might fly me down to the DC, so I obviously wasn't one of the 10 lucky winners, but it lacked a link to any company selling anything. I was a bit confused. So I moved on to the final item enclosed in the evelope...a small pamphlet.

The pamphlet is selling a variety of inaugural collectibles: pins, limited edition signed posters, plates, keyrings. It looks very reminiscent of one of those collectible dealers like the Bradford Exchange. Aha, so THIS is the catch. The bottom of pamphlet says "To order go to www.inauguralstore.com or call 800-808-7594". Just as I suspected, some company is cashing in. Very well done...a very good effort at some very official looking deceit. Yes, it was in very poor taste, with the level of trickery involved, but the lengths they went to trying to make it look official was commendable. I was impressed, but angry at the lows that corporations will stoop to. It was very reminiscent of a Publishers Clearinghouse mailings trying to trick people into thinking that they've won $1,000,000


Reinvestigating the letter



The next day, I decide I'll do some googling to see just how many people got the same sort of scam. I found a number of posts of people who got this, many thinking it's an actual invitation (which, of course, I figured, was the whole intention). Then somebody posted a link to the following New York Times article:
Inside a Gritty Brooklyn Factory, Potomac Fever

The article details how this printer had been chosen by the Obama team to print up 1,000,000 invitation letters to the inauguration. The article discusses why the company was chosen, the quality of materials to be used, and the effort put in around the clock to make something of such high quality. The article includes a photo of the actual letters...and they looked EXACTLY like my letter.

So, my first thought was "Ok, so this marketing company made an exact duplicate of the letter and sent it to me". But then I pondered a minute and realized...they had requested 1 MILLION letters to be printed up. Now I was back to the thought...perhaps my letter actually was an official letter from the Obama team.

So I went to check out the website mentioned in the pamphlet (I hadn't bothered to go there up until now because I was convinced it wasn't official and I had no intention of giving their website the traffic). When I got there, the website was in a style identical of every other Obama website to date, complete with donation links. However, I'm well aware of how easy it is duplicate a website's look and feel, and the donation link may be there for good measure. So, I went and started digging around on a website that I knew for a fact was official: www.pic2009.com

Well, I couldn't find an actually link to inauguralstore.com, but I found a link to inauguralcollectibles.com, so obviously that was an official site. As I started browsing, I noticed the two websites were virtually identical. They had the same text, same links, selling the exact same products. In fact, the ONLY difference I could find between the two sites was a different contact phone number.

I was still left with the question...is this an official obama website, or a masterful duplicate. Well, my first thought was to look at the whois.net database and see who the 2 websites are registered to. As it turns out, they are registered to the same person. Yet, I've seen websites with fake registration info before, so I wanted a little more confirmation. Well, I figured I probably should have done an nslookup to see what IP addresses the two domain names resolve to. Well, as it turns out, they resolve to the exact same pair of IP addresses.

So, that proves it pretty conclusively. The letter I received IS an official letter from Barack Obama's inaugural committee. Suddenly, I realized I was actually MORE angry about the letter than I was when I thought it was a fake letter to some slimy corporation. The corporation could kind of be excused for doing something in such poor taste. But for Barack Obama to send out something so official looking to his supporters? Knowing that his supporters would be well aware of the well publicized fact that he would be bringing 10 supporters to witness the inauguration firsthand? This seem like a very poorly thought out mailing campaign, simply because of the level of trickery involved. If it had been just the letter and pamphlet that were sent out, I wouldn't have had a problem. But sending out such an official certificate was, in my opinion, in such poor taste.

1 comment:

ggatkins said...

I agree with Ron. When I received the invitation, I thought I was invited to the Neighborhood Ball because it was mentioned in the ambiguous paper that accompanied the invitation. I excitedly called a few realtives, and began searching the internet for hotels. I was "this close" to reserving a nonrefundable room for $700! I also checked pic2009.org websit, but there was no additional information posted yet nor was there a way to send an email to ask any questions or post a comment. My husband said there was not enough info yet so hold off booking a hotel. The next morning after several rereads of the page that came with the invite and looking at the inaugural merchandise pamphlet, I realized this was a ploy to get you to spend $50 for the frame for your invite. Also I thought what is a commemorative invitation. Why do you need an invitation to go to something the general public can go to? The invitation in itself is beautiful. However, if they wanted to send something to supporters, a certificate of appreciation would have been better. After being so excited to receive this invitation and then feeling like I had been duped was quite a let down to say the least. At a time when the actual invitations are being sent out what are we to think? One of my coworkers received an invitation as well. She said it took her about five reads to realize it was not a "real" invitation and was also left with a feeling of being let down. This invitation has a negative effect. Whoever thought this was a good idea did not think it through to say what would they think if they received this in the mail.