2 phase spam: A clever attention grabbing strategy

May 3, 2012


Last week I got some clever spam. It was the first time I have ever been impressed by a spammer. I don't know how widespread this technique is, but it got me to act, and I usually ruthlessly delete spam.

8:50 am: I get an email from [email protected] Someone I don't know. Almost certainly spam. None of my friends use @comcast.net email addresses. None of the people who are still my friends anyways (sorry guys, 2012 new years resolution). The email is simple:

Subject: game
Message: I think i found the game you are talking about.

That's it. One liner. Subject was "game". Not even capitalized. It didn't look like spam -- there was no sell, no clear reason why someone would send that message. I assumed it was a mistake, and deleted it without much thought. But "game" was in my head. I don't even play computer games and I was wondering what game it was.

But its gone now. I'm back to crushing emails. I am an email slayer. The inbox stands no chance against my efficient email triage process. It never occurred to me that I'd be giving this brief moment another thought. Then it comes.

8:59 am: 9 minutes later. Another email pops into my inbox on the same thread:

Subject: game
is the game called world of tanks?
i will make an account.
what clan are you in?

I could tell by the message, writing, and originating address that it wasn't from anyone I knew. In fact, I knew that when I deleted the first email. I don't play computer games. I have never been in a clan. And my interest was piqued.

"world of tanks". I googled it, as I have done at least 3 times in the following week as I've recounted this story to others.

Two phase spam.

This is brilliant. The people who crafted this campaign did so many things right.

The first message is just a hook. Short, enough to flit into your memory and get kicked out. You don't even have to open the message in gmail to see the body. It's short and the message shows up on the message index! I don't play games. But I like games. Who doesn't like games. Just the word game makes me happy. But it's gone, out of mind.

First email at 8:50am. Just before the day really starts. Most people haven't really started digging into any serious task. A lot of idle email spam deletion. But a lot of people at their inboxes. Doing a lot of nothing. Second email at 9am. Still doing nothing. I google it. I even click through to the site!

I suspect google tracks that people are searching for this and clicking through to the site -- I wouldn't be surprised if this was somehow helpful to them from an SEO perspective too with google tracking searches for it and clicks to the site.

It was subtle, it was tricky, it gave me just enough information to be curious and it was just unsalesey enough that it could be mistaken for an accident instead of spam.

A lesson in enlightened spamming:

  1. First you plant the seed.
  2. Then you wait for it to grow into a plant.
  3. Then you ...

You are my spam heroes.

Screenshot, for reference: