The Weekender, February 21, 2020


Today, I’m going to invite you to enter a contest. It costs nothing to enter but there is a catch — you’ll be asked to sign up for a few other email newsletters (which, as an aside, are also free and are also very good newsletters). I’m going to talk a bit about marketing and explain why these giveaways happen in a moment. But if you just want to skip to that part, click here to enter and good luck! 

OK, so, how these work is simple: a bunch of newsletters get together, pitch in to buy a prize, and ask their lists to enter. Everyone who enters also agrees to subscribe to the other lists. It’s all very transparent, I promise. And while it isn’t a scam, yes, it feels scammy. You’re obviously not entering this because you want to read Now I Know; you’re entering because you want the AirPods. 

(As an aside, I really like my AirPods.)

For those reasons, I run these very rarely. But here’s the funny thing: they actually kind of work from my perspective — I’m looking to reach more people, and a good percentage of people who come in via these contests tend to actually stick. It surprised me too!

About fifteen or so years ago, I read a book titled Permission Marketing by Seth Godin. I highly, highly recommend reading it; I’ve bought a few copies for other people because I find it so important to what I do. The basic idea is that you can either shove your message in front of people and hope they listen (that’d be “interruption marketing” and is basically what an ad during your favorite TV show is) or you do something to make your message welcome and anticipated. Now I Know is a years-long exercise in the latter — it’s why when I mention that I have books out, you probably don’t see it as an “ad” but a welcome bit of information about something you may want to buy. 

But as Godin notes, there’s a limit to permission marketing: the first time, you rarely have permission. I don’t have money for advertising, so giveaways like this are particularly interesting. Hopefully, you’ll find the other newsletters interesting; if not, you can unsubscribe pretty easily. And maybe, one of you wins some gear.

Anyway, if you want to enter, you can here. If not, that’s fine — I rarely enter these things myself. I did win an XBox once, though. 

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: President’s Day. No email newsletter. 

Tuesday: The Fake Cold Moment of the Cold War. I also read somewhere that LBJ also faked a cold during the same week (for the same reasons) but I couldn’t find a second source to verify that fact. 

Wednesday: How to Brew Cleaner Water. A funny meta-story here: I was looking for a good bonus fact for this one and came across a story about a triathelete who … well, I won’t ruin it for you. Instead, I’ll just suggest you click here. I “discovered” that link while Googling for more background information about the triathlete and, as you’ll see, decided it wouldn’t make for a good bonus fact.

Thursday: Backwards, Forwards: A really racist test.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “When Medical Debt Collectors Decide Who Gets Arrested” (ProPublica, 25 minutes, February 2020). The subhead (which is, for some reason, at the top of the page): “Welcome to Coffeyville, Kansas, where the judge has no law degree, debt collectors get a cut of the bail, and Americans are watching their lives — and liberty — disappear in the pursuit of medical debt collection.”

2) “The pungent legacy of Axe Body Spray” (Vox, 8 minutes, February 2020). If you don’t know what Axe Body Spray is, this may be either super-interesting or super-boring, I really can’t tell. Axe was (is?) something unlike anything else, where teen boys would spray it EVERYWHERE because it made them smell cool, or so they thought. As the article says, “Axe bulldozed the senses with a fragrance so strong it seemed to precede the bodies it clung to — like Febreze, or a bad reputation. Almost 20 years later, it hasn’t managed to shake its association with the scent of middle school.”

3) “The Princess, the Plantfluencers, and the Pink Congo Scam” (Wired, 12 minutes, February 2020). The subhead: “The pink princess philodendron is the ultimate Instagram plant, with three-digit price tags to match. The following it cultivated was also ripe for deception.”

Have a great weekend!