Cagey Consumer

MCI Sends Savings Certificates to North Pole

According to a source from MCI's Greenville, South Carolina service center, MCI has decided to let Santa Claus deliver some presents to its customers.

MCI Savings Certficiates Become Christmas Presents

Several years ago, AT&T found that it could gain back some of its lost customers by offering them cash. MCI eventually responded to this by agreeing to match AT&T's cash offer with a savings certificate that could be applied to the customer's phone bill. But customers could also hold on to these certificates, which would grow each month by a set dollar amount for up to a year.

Since July 1997, many of these savings certificates have "matured" and customers started asking to redeem them. This is where MCI's partnering with Santa Claus comes into play:

Instead of mailing out checks when the savings certificates are redeemed, MCI has inked a deal whereby Santa Claus will includes the checks in his usual Christmas deliveries.

Affinity Marketing Meets Postage Savings

Financial analysts give MCI executives high marks for this move. MCI's cost to deliver the checks will be only one-third of what it would pay the U.S. Postal Service, while the incremental effort to Santa in delivering the checks is virtually nil. Meanwhile, the ability for MCI to be associated with Santa Claus is expected to be a big edge in retaining existing customers as well as obtaining new customers, since marketing surveys show that children under the age of 8 influence selection of telephone services in over 25% of households having such youngsters.

Consumer Advocates Critical

Naturally, every good idea has its critic. Aside from the obvious complaint that this deal further commercializes Christmas, some express concern that consumers shouldn't have to wait for Christmas to get checks they asked for in July. A more significant fear is that Santa will slack off on other presents for those who are getting the MCI checks.

MCI Denies Everything

Officially, MCI denies any of this is happening, but it's understandable that MCI would attempt to maximize the value of this marketing coup by using the element of surprise. The official story that MCI offers for delays in sending out these checks is so hard to believe, there's no point in including it here. To accept MCI's official explanation, you may as well believe in Santa Claus.

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