Stick your car up your wazoo!

Image of Ultramar Mastercard The reason companies use mass market mailing campaigns to pimp their wares is precisely because, in most instances, such strategies garner positive results. Most people are likely familiar with the Publisher's Clearing House mailing campaign and some of you might actually have obtained magazine subscriptions as a consequence. But despite the cornucopia of prizes offered in the Sweepstakes and all the zeroes and dollar signs on the bright, colourful package, has Ed McMahon ever showed up at your door, or at anyone else's door you might know for that matter, with a giant mothering cardboard cheque?

When a marketing campaign is presented to a sample of the population and a potential reward is offered, the campaign will generate a reasonably predictable hit-miss ratio. The more successful the campaign, the higher the number of hits and, conversely, less successful campaigns will have lower hit-miss ratios. Marketing costs are, of course, factored into the equation to generate an overall campaign efficacy.

Spammers (the fuckwits responsible for filling up your email inbox with offers that anyone with the ability to walk and chew gum should be able to recognize as scams) practice their art precisely because of this mathematical hit-miss relationship. No matter how preposterous the offer, some putz will inevitably feast at the trough of stupidity. And despite the fact that spammers enjoy a relatively low hit-miss ratio, the cost of sending out a gazillion emails is negligible so the return, no matter how small the hit-miss ratio, makes spamming a lucrative venture.

Most of us are familiar with the expressions "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" or "let the buyer beware". There is some cautionary pragmatism in these expressions which, as part of the common vernacular, have become synonymous with the concept of caveat emptor; a principle of property law. Yet, despite such well-known and practical advice, hundreds of thousands of consumers, on a daily basis, enter into agreements which, for a variety of reasons, fail to meet their expectations.

Back in May, the National Bank of Canada launched a mass marketing campaign in an effort to promote their Ultramar Mastercard credit card. The promotion, which boasted no annual fee and cash-back rewards for the card, also promised to provide all new applicants with a free $20 Ultramar gift card upon activation of the card. Gasoline prices have, for anyone who follows them, been up and down like a toilet seat at a mixed party over the past year. Back in May, when the Ultramar promotion was launched, gas prices had risen abruptly. Though we do not use the car on a daily basis and rely, instead, on public transit for our day to day commutes, we do use the car for our weekend transportation needs. And, though our gas consumption is relatively small, we do consider ourselves conscientious consumers and, as a consequence, we do try to fuel the vehicle when and where prices are lowest. (Online resources such as or the popular GasBuddy app can be helpful in this regard.)

The vast majority of my monthly purchases are made using a credit card. The annual interest rate on a credit card is unimportant to me as a balance is NEVER carried on the card. In fact, payment for purchases I make are generally made on the very same day using my online banking so any credit card statements, when they actually do arrive in my mailbox, always have a $0 balance. Most bank debit cards offer few perks. By using a credit card, however, the consumer can enjoy several benefits including cash-back rewards, various point reward programmes and, what is often overlooked, extended warranty coverage for items purchased with the card. The National Bank Ultramar Mastercard offered, more or less, the same features as my existing credit card but it also offered a $20 prepaid gas card which could be redeemed at any Ultramar station. Moreover, the application process was online and took a mere 5 minutes to complete. They were, in effect, offering to pay me $240/hour to switch to their card: a remuneration I felt sufficient to opt in.

The online application went smoothly and, about a week later, an account PIN arrived in the mail with information indicating that the new card was being processed and would be mailed under separate cover. As expected, the National Bank Ultramar Mastercard arrived about a week later and was promptly activated. It occurred to me in early July while refuelling at McEwen's (which ironically was noticeably cheaper than any of their competitors) that I had never received the promotional $20 Ultramar gift card as was promised at the time of application. Noting this, the following week I phoned the National Bank to ascertain precisely why I had not received the promotional gift card. Accordingly, they indicated the gift card had not been sent because I had not, as of that time, used my card. Fair enough.. I had been under the impression I need only activate the card to receive the promotional offer. Shortly thereafter, I defiled the virginal plastic card using it to make purchases of about $60 by mid-July.

When August rolled around, and I still hadn't received the promotional gift card, I called the National Bank again. This time they sang a different tune indicating that a credit of $20 would appear on my next statement. Since I had already sent the payment, in its entirety, for their July statement, the subsequent statement should, according to their representative, show a credit balance of twenty bones. Had the credit actually appeared on my August statement you'd be spared the tedious reportage of this missive. That's right... no credit appeared on the August statement and, because the account had a $0 balance, no statement was generated for the month of September.

I phoned them a third time in late September to determine precisely what had became of the elusive $20 gift card they had originally promised at the time of application. The promotional period, they explained, ran from May until October 15th, after which all gift cards would be sent out. They assured me that my promotional gift card would be processed and that I would receive it no later than October 31st. That, of course, has not happened. A $20 gift card in exchange for five minutes of my time to apply for their card seemed like a pretty good deal. As I indicated at the outset, at $240/hour you've got my attention. But given that I've phoned them three times over a five month period for information on the latent gift card, the value/time ratio has now, were I to include the time it took to write this expression of dissatisfaction, lowered the value on my time to somewhere below minimum wage.

As I take scissors to card, print out a copy of this post and send both back in the mail to the National Bank of Canada, I have only two things to say: "First, you still owe me a $20 gift card for fulfilling my side of the agreement; and second, perhaps more succinct than the first, STICK YOUR CARD UP YOUR WAZOO!"

Submitted by Jeff Dubois, 03 November 2012