09 Jun

Western Union’s ‘Computer Letter’

Ed McCabe Collection, Series 1. Box 3, Folder 10. Ad for Western Union.

In 1983, Ed McCabe contributed the copy for this ad promoting Western Union’s new “Computer Letter“—a replacement for promotion through conventional mail in which customers can enter a message in a computer and have it transmitted through Western Union’s communications network and printed and delivered for its recipient. According to the copy, “96%” of these automatically produced messages get read, presumably because they resemble some kind of official communication, which also suggests this marketing strategy is a curious predecessor to email spam, which so often poses as something other than what it is.

According to a 1984 survey in Creative Computing magazine, Western Union customers savvy with primitive computers can even do this themselves, by logging into the company’s “EasyLink” network through a 300 baud modem (that’s 0.0375 KB/s) and entering some elaborate commands:

Computer letters come in three flavors: Computer Letter Service (delivery in three days), E-COM (delivery in two business days or less), and Overseas Priority Letter (delivered in two business days). To send a computer letter you first key in the EasyLink address, 62900396. This must be done beore you use a slash command to access one of the three services. Once you get the GA (Go Ahead) prompt you can then enter the /CLS (computer letter service), /ECOM, or /OPL (overseas priority leter) command.

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09 June 2015
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Ed McCabe
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