Misleading Marketing

I subscribed to a magazine the other day, and the confirmation screen contained this.

Can you spot the problem? (The default state for the checkboxes is unchecked.)


The first five checkboxes are “opt-out” i.e. you must initiate an action to stop something.

Checkbox number six is “opt-in” i.e. you must initiate an action to start something.

This is bad interface design.

Most people will not read the explanatory copy closely, and leave the boxes unchecked.

People who take the time to read the copy will begin checking the boxes, and might tick the sixth box on the assumption that the logic is the same.


Is the magazine publisher trying to trick you into subscribing to their email blast?

Probably not, according to Hanlon’s Razor: “┬áNever attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

Yes in this case we suspect the publisher is limited not by their brains, but by their systems. Their postal and telesales system probably assumes “opt-in” and the email system probably assumes “opt-out”. Combine the two little form widgets onto one page and you get dissonance.

The Downside

Is it worth fixing? The worst case is that hundreds of people, annoyed at receiving unwanted offers in their inbox, begin marking those emails as spam. Email providers like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo eventually learn from this aggregated customer behavior and preemptively treat all of these offers as spam. Delivery rates thus decline and the promotional channel is tainted.

Is that likely? It depends on the volume of subscriptions through this page, and we can only guess at this point.

Naturally, the best course of action would have been to build the forms with consistent logic from the start.