No, Some Random Guy Didn’t Buy a Full-Page WSJ Ad Just to Complain About Random Stuff

An open letter from 'Nick Vitale' was really just an ad for SAP

Nick Vitale has some bones to pick with modern corporations. He's also just an ad for another corporation. - Credit by Via @robdnoel on Twitter
Headshot of David Griner

Nick Vitale of Milltown, New Jersey, has a few problems. He doesn’t like airline baggage fees, cable pricing or how ridesharing services handle tips. Also, he doesn’t exist, which is probably a minor inconvenience some days.

Vitale was supposedly the author of an “open letter” placed as a full-page ad in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal. Apparently so frustrated by the foibles of modern consumer life that he was willing to pay for top-dollar ad placement, he used the space to air his grievances with everything from the thickness of tomato slices on cheeseburgers to the laughably niche focus of some subscription delivery services.

Skeptics might (and did) quickly spot a few reasons to doubt the authenticity of this being some random guy’s letter. For one, he’s complaining about the unsanitary nature of gas pumps, but he’s from New Jersey, where all gas is required to be pumped by attendants. Also, what non-marketing human says “metadata”? And how exactly are these companies supposed to reach out to ol’ Nick when he left no contact info in the ad?

Also, a one-off full-page WSJ is going to run you about $250,000, which seems a bit over the top just to vent your personal quibbles.

Still, it’s not a bad bit of copywriting and makes some points that are honestly refreshing to see in any ad space, so let’s take a look at the text:

An open letter to anyone who will listen:

First of all, my name is Nick Vitale. I’m 36 years old and live in Milltown, N.J. I don’t know if that matters, but I thought it would be appropriate for the letter not to be completely anonymous, because it may come off as a list of grievances. I hope it doesn’t though, because that’s not really the spirit in which it’s intended.

It seems like every time I go anywhere or buy something, I’m always told, “We want to hear your feedback.” Even on the highway, I see signs on the backs of trucks asking for my thoughts on the question “How’s our driving?” And while I appreciate the offer, I’d prefer not to dial an 800 number while simultaneously tailgating a semi truck.

But every time I do respond to these invitations, be it with a tweet or a voicemail to a customer hotline, I get the sense that nobody’s listening. Not that you aren’t listening to all of us in the general “metadata” kinda sense. But I feel like you’re not listening to me, specifically. So, in the spirit of collaboration, here’s some constructive feedback.

This is in no particular order, but air travel seems like a good place to start. You guys ail seem to know that I prefer a window seat toward the front, which is great. But I think we can do better. First off, if you need ten bucks more, just charge me ten bucks more, and give me the meal for free like you used to do. Same thing with the baggage fee. Now everybody’s trying to drag their suitcase on the plane to avoid the fee, and I have nowhere to put my backpack except under the seat—which I really shouldn’t have to do, since some people are obviously shoving everything they own into the overhead.

In a related matter, all you ride-sharing services (you know who you are) are really great. But can you just fold my usual 18% tip into my fare? The one-touch convenience isn’t so “one-touch” if I have to select and enter a gratuity.

Cell phone manufacturers, I already want your latest model. You don’t need to throttle my current phone to make me want it more. Also, kudos to whoever invented that handle doohickey you stick on the back of the phone. I really dig that thing.

Cable companies: please see feecback for airlines. If I’m paying $79.99 a month, I want to pay $79.99 a month. Not $108.37. What is a “convenience fee” anyway? I don’t find it very convenient.

Gas stations, I really appreciate that some of you have started putting hand sanitizer dispensers by the pump. What’s taking the rest of you so long?

On the subject of cheeseburgers, I am generally pleased with the product and service I have received. However, it would be great if you guys could slice both the lettuce and tomato much thinner, so they don’t slide out of the bun when I bite into it. It’s a little thing, but one that I think would dramatically improve the overall experience.

Subscription services for music: Yes.

Subscription services dress socks: No.

Automakers. I absolutely love all the technology you’re putting into my dashboard. But please don’t start acting like the phone companies and build my car to stop working in three years. Because if you do, I give you my word, I’ll leave you forever. The Bluetooth audio is sweet though.

Finally, to every reasonably hotel chain I’ve stayed in for the last two years: those free breakfasts with the waffle-making stations have made me happier than you could possibly imagine. Maybe it’s just me (and it probably is), but every consumer product in America should come with free breakfast and ability for one to make one’s own waffles, if one is so inclined.

Thanks for listening. I hope it helps. And if any of you wish to discuss these matters further, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Sincerely,

Nick Vitale
Milltown. NJ

Sure enough, Nick’s not a real bloke with real grudges about the minor irritations of our increasingly digital world. Instead, he’s a construct created by enterprise software brand SAP.

To be fair, the ad connection was readily apparent if you were browsing the printed pages of Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, but when the letter was photographed in isolation and shared online without the campaign’s follow-up page, it could understandably confused for something more organic.

Here’s the text of SAP’s follow-up ad:

An open letter to Nick Vitale of Milltown, NJ:

Nick,

We hear you. Thank you for your letter. We couldn’t agree more. Everybody has their likes, dislikes, preferences and things that drive them crazy. And that’s even more true when you’re a paying customer. It’s not enough for a business to listen to their customers. They need to respond and react to what customers are telling them. And relate to every customer as a distinct individual, not as just another face in the crowd.

It’s called “Experience Management.” Because in today’s experience economy, people expect better and more personal service, all the time. As well they should.

That’s why we’ve made Qualtrics a part of SAP. So that we can connect businesses to their customers and connect customers back to those businesses. In a way that turns customers into fanatics, products into obsessions, employees into ambassadors, and brands into religions.

So thanks for your feedback, Nick. Not only did we hear you, but we’re doing something to address it. We’ll be in touch soon.

Best,

Bill McDermott
CEO, SAP

Ryan Smith
Co-founder/CEO, Qualtrics

I’m not sure whether to be more unnerved by the “we’ll be in touch soon” response to a person of the company’s own creation or the fact that they want to turn “brands into religions.”

But hey, you have to give SAP some credit for coming up with a minimalist, long-copy ad idea that still got some strong digital reach.


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@griner david.griner@adweek.com David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."