Direct Marketing and the Time I Ripped Off PCH of Playboy and Sports Illustrated Magazines at Age 12
12-year-old boys are disgusting. I was one...and in some ways still am one. We were messy, did stupid things, and barely just at the age of independence. I am grateful to have the mother that I have for all the grief that I gave her in that period of my life. I can only pray for mine and my wife's sake that our expectant boy is neat and doesn't leave crumbs all over the place. With my genetics, it's wishful thinking. But it's not like I ever humped a warm Apple pie or anything like that.
With lots of unsupervised time with my parents being divorced and neither parent coming home until 5-6 PM, there was lots of mischief to get into after I was through playing wiffle ball, Super Nintendo, or when my shows consisting of "Sally Jessy Raphael" and "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" were over.
Being the first one home, I was usually the one to get the mail. So one day I took the mail out of the box, set it out on the table and was shocked at what I saw. The mailing from Publishers Clearing House read, "Joseph Odas...You Could Be the Grand Prize Winner of $10,000,000!" I felt like the luckiest preteen boy in the world. Who else ever gets the possibility to win millions of dollars for doing absolutely nothing when they are 12? I felt really special!
There was a catch though. To be eligible for the grand prize, you had to subscribe to two magazines. I checked the list and saw the familiar fare - National Geographic, Reader's Digest, People, Playboy....Playboy? How could it be this easy to get erotica? This was back in the day when a kid could order cigarettes from the local sandwich shop and the delivery guy wouldn't care about dropping them off if you said your parent was in the shower.
"I say go for it.", my 18 month older brother convinced me. He had the power of persuasion over me like the time he convinced me to get "Cyborg Justice" for the Sega Genesis with the gift money I received on my tenth birthday because it was a "cool game". I played it three times. I figured this was one of those situations where I would act and beg for forgiveness if I were to get caught. The only problem was that I didn't have any stamps.
I didn't realize that the postage was included with the envelope. Like a schmuck, I searched around the house desperately trying to find a stamp. Here's what I came across in my 1995 WWE (WWF at the time) Fan Club Membership Box:
Success! Screw Elvis and Abraham Lincoln. I was going to use a stamp of Paul Bearer or Razor Ramon to send my mail. So I checked off Playboy and Sports Illustrated since I needed to pick an additional magazine. I was really into sports but I suppose I was also looking forward to the swimsuit edition. I walked down the street to my mailbox and dropped in the return envelope while at the same time not too optimistic that this would work. It seemed too easy. I mean could you imagine the look on the postal workers face when they saw this staring back at them on the envelope:
Yes. I used the Doink the Clown stamp on the envelope. Doink the friggin Clown. But it must have worked, because a few weeks later I had my grubby little hands on the November 1995 issue of Playboy with Raquel's daughter Tahnee Welch on the cover. I would be lying if I said that I chose Playboy for the articles, but the celebrity interviews were filled with more colorful language than other magazines that I had read at the time. The celebrities always seemed more open and I liked the candid style. The joke section was also very memorable.
But it was Sports Illustrated that would be game changing for me. It was through this publication that I discovered Peter King and the late Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman. Their writings on the happenings of the NFL in the 1996 season were key to me in an era when I didn't have internet access yet and the local newspapers mostly covered the New York and Philadelphia teams. I was introduced to the greatness of Peyton Manning and the sharp orange and white colored Tennessee Volunteers. The late William Nack's article on Ohio State linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer had me thinking "The Big Kat" could be the next Butkus or Singletary - it's unfortunate that due to early career injuries that would never come to be.
For several weeks, it never occurred to me how I was going to pay for these magazines. It's not like I had a credit card or a checkbook. The Sports Illustrated would arrive weekly while the Playboy would arrive monthly. It was kind of stressful knowing that I had to rush to the mailbox before my Mom did even on the weekends. "I'll get the mail, Mom", as if I was being helpful. No, I just didn't want to get caught. If not for the fact that I would probably end up being severely punished, I didn't want to have to deal with the extreme embarrassment of explaining to my mother how I "bought" nudie magazines and had them shipped to the house and why I didn't just bribe someone older to buy them for me. The anxiety gave me kind of an adrenaline rush, like someone playing Texas Hold'em who just went all-in.
The December 1995 edition of Playboy with Farrah Fawcett on the cover was delivered to the house without a hitch. As I checked to the back of the magazine for a preview of the next month's edition, I was ecstatic to see that my celebrity crush at the time Pamela Anderson was going to be featured in a "Best of" centerfold. What teenage boy didn't love Pamela Anderson at the time? She was everyone's favorite "Baywatch" babe, Tool Time Girl, and soon to be movie star. Anderson shot to stardom after being featured on the cover of the October 1989 issue and being selected as the centerfold for February 1990 edition. She was the 1990's Marilyn Monroe. It was at this time that I received my first invoice. I had owed $32.00 for my small collection of magazines. I thought if I threw it away maybe it would disappear.
Christmas was coming and I was hoping that it could come a little early with January issue coming sometime in December. The anxiety increased. That anxiety would turn to full blown panic and embarrassment when I received a call one Saturday afternoon at my father's house. "JOSEPH! What the hell is this filth doing in the mail!" My Mom was furious. She was even more pissed when the "disappearing invoice" turned into a past due notice which arrived seeking payment for the magazines. There was no plea bargaining - I was grounded. I never found out to this day if the $32.00 was ever paid. Legend has it that my Mom called Publishers Clearing House directly and complained that they sold Playboys to a 12-year-old boy without any identification and they wiped out the bill completely. She probably paid it off directly sparing my credit score. PCH - if you're still looking for me - I think the statute of limitations has expired for my crime.
I never did win that $10,000,000, but several years ago I did receive one of the greatest Mom trolls in history:
She kept the magazines all these years just to rub it in my face that I couldn't beat the system. Thanks Mom!
I hope that you like the branding of "The Thermo" as my blog. I was going with the whole heat = fire = lit deal. If you like my article, please share and like on social media and subscribe to The Thermo for future editions of my blog. Tune in later this week when I cover the marketing of the US Women's Soccer team as they return to play for the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL). Until next time!
Song of the Day: "The Touch" by Stan Bush