Computer-generated PR spam trying not to look like computer-generated PR spam

PR people sometimes say "I loved your coverage of x, perhaps you'd like to hear about y!". The idea is to ensure that I, Esteemed Journalist, know that I am worthy of personalized attention, rather than being an entry on a mailing list.

Some of them, however, are trying to have their cake and eat it, too. I've started getting emails that contain computer-generated personal touches. Computers trying to copy what humans would say to avoid looking like computers!

Here's one that just came in. He/she/it even tweeted me about an unrelated subject--a nice proofing touch--shortly before the email came in. Needless to say, the pitch is terrible. As the named sender might be a real person, I've changed the name to spare them the embarrassment.

Hello Rob,

My name is [horse_PR] and I work with BlueGlass Interactive, Inc. During SOPA, I found a particular interest in, "Infographic: Hollywood's long war on technology." This infographic did a great job at presenting SOPA, in a way that the average consumer could understand.

I noticed a good portion of your site is dedicated to Gweek and Computers. I thought you might enjoy a related infographic, "12 Cities to Find an IT Job." With product and service development growing, more IT jobs are emerging across the states. This IG reviews the top 12 cities that are currently growing and hiring in the IT realm. I believe a good portion of your readership would find this IG to be a great resource!

Do you agree?

I'd love to have you feature this on BoingBoing. I've attached the IG for your review. I look forward to receiving your feedback!

Kind Regards, [horse_PR]

BlueGlass turns out to be an infographic/SEO/marketing outfit: the business model is to make ads look like content, then pitch them to sites as free editorial. The visual complexity of infographics helps conceal or transmute advertising material, and their linkbaityness makes it easy to get them picked up and linked to. I've fallen for it, once before! In this case, the offered infographic advertised the IT recruiter that presumably paid for the service.

Given that I am making hay of BlueGlass's incompetence, I thought it only fair that I publish this infographic in full. It may be seen to the right.


  1. Was the original infographic unreadably tiny?  I can’t seem to find a normal sized version of it in your post. 

    1. That’s the point- he’s publishing the infographic, but not actually letting them gain from it. it’s sarcastic, brilliant, and some would say, arrogant.

  2. the business model is to make ads look like content, then pitch them to sites as free editorial

    I think this is rapidly on the way to becoming (if it has not already become) the dominant business model of the web.

  3. Rob,

    I can completely respect your opinion that IGs and blogger outreach aren’t legitimate forms of content. But I can’t sit back and let the idea that we somehow use auto-generated bots to contact bloggers stand, because that simply is not true. We have great relationships with many blogs (some of which you would probably consider competitors) who publish content we’ve created. And I can assure you that wouldn’t be the case if we were bot spamming bloggers. I will make sure BoingBoing is removed from our contact list so we don’t bother you in the fututre. And for the person who asked about the original IG, it got picked up several places. One of those being All Top

    1. These are nae so much infographics as small tables that have Explosive Uncontrolled Chartjunk Growth Disease. If treated early by regular injections of edtuftese™, growth may be halted or even reversed. Sadly, most cases continue unabated leading to blindness and insanity.

  4. Hi Rob,

    I am really sorry for any misunderstanding and there was absolutely no intention to spam you or anyone at Boing Boing.  In fact, I wouldn’t consider sending a request like the one that was sent, unless I thought you might find the content useful and worthy of sharing. Boing Boing features categories on Science, Gweek and Data – all topics that an average techie would enjoy. With this in mind, I thought you might be interested in the infographic I sent. 

    Boing Boing has shared infographics in the past (as recently as yesterday) which is why I thought it would be appropriate to reach out.  Here are a few examples:

    I can assure you that there was no automation involved in emailing you or tweeting to you.  The email you received was crafted by a real person (me).

    There’s no benefit to us or our clients in annoying or bothering publishers, so we do genuinely try to only reach out to publishers that we believe might truly be interested in sharing content we’ve created.

    My sincere apologies for missing the mark here and wasting your time.

    1. “Boing Boing features categories on Science, Gweek and Data”
      Not to be rude, but are you sure you aren’t a spam-bot?

      1. Unverified computer-generated nonsense in comments denying the existence of unverified computer-generated nonsense in emails.

        Recursion: it just keeps on giving.

        1. I thought you would be interested in our offer of xenon gas, which would be enjoyed by a mammal who has breathed gases in the past.  Here are a few examples:
          Unleaded Premium

          I guarantee this $messageType was written by a real $sentientBeing.

          What do you think?

      2. To be fair, the top bar of Boing Boing does feature categories (“/tag/” links) to “Science”, “Gweek”, and “Data” today.

        When I visited Boing-Boing last time, maybe yesterday, one of these top bar categories was “Frank Zappa”, which greatly amused me. 

        I’ve been curious about this, and this seems to be a great opportunity to ask:  Are these randomly generated periodically, or on the fly, or on a user-by-user basis?  Or does someone select them?

        Inquiring minds want to know!

        1. It’s fair to point that out, but it’s also fair to point out that their wording was “Boing Boing features categories on Science, Gweek and Data – all topics that an average techie would enjoy.”

          The only reason someone would word this sentence in this way is if they don’t know the meaning of these words, and don’t realize that “Gweek” isn’t a real word or even a valid category of articles (in the way they’re implying). That, or they’re a robot – or perhaps simply as mindless as a robot.

          To really be fair, I wouldn’t be surprised if this type of work is being done by people in Calcutta who don’t have the greatest command of English and don’t understand any of the jargon used on sites like Boing Boing.

          1. Right. So what you’re saying is, instead of being computer-generated, this could simply be the work of a very ignorant human. So much better!

            I think we may be running a strange analogue of the Turing Test right now.

          2. Yes, you are right.  Or possibly “Work From Home, Make Money With Your Computer” people in the US who are making pennies per 100 words.  I agree–this isn’t a reader of the site, even a casual one.

            To be really fair (and honest) myself, I was 90% interested in asking my question about the top bar, and only 10% interested in raising the issue of fairness.  ;)

          3. Or possibly “Work From Home, Make Money With Your Computer” people in the US who are making pennies per 100 words.

            Are you crazy? We have hundreds of commenters whose aunts, sisters-in-law and neighbors’ grandmothers are making thousands of dollars by working from home a few hours per week!

          4.  @boingboing-a6bad88001e731739b1415ea2b6212a4:disqus Haha, yes, I saw the Frank Zappa tag on the top bar yesterday as well and thought it was hilarious :)

            Right now it’s “Data”, “Fashion”, and “Spying” – classic.

          5.  @beschizza:disqus  Perhaps Frank Zappa should be a permanent fixture on the header as PR-bot bait.

        2. We have a thing to pick them (technically, they’re just wordpress ‘links’ and it the nav bar is showing the most recent ones) There are thingies that suggest them algorithmically, but they’re kinda … dumb.

          1.  Thanks for the reply.  I’m often charmed by what turns up there, and it makes for a fun way to browse some of the older content.

    2. Hello to you, Kelsey Libert!  I also wouldn’t consider sending a request like the one.  I love [interest2], it is so interesting!  Please check out my blog

    3. Heh, kudos to Mark, the outside world thinks that ‘Gweek’ is a popular topic.

      There was me thinking it was the boing boing podcast.

      I’m looking forward to the amazon recommendations based on my interest in ‘Gweek’.

    4.  The thing sure *reads* like it  was computer generated.
      “During SOPA, I found a particular interest in, “Infographic: Hollywood’s long war on technology.””  reads just like those useless ads you get for “partners” on Amazon: “For the best selection and widest variety of “The Great Gatsby” click here…”

      Reading this one, I’d have sworn is was an auto-bot too.  The comment was generic and could have applied to almost nay topic

      And if the “infographic” was indeed a concealed ad, well, that’s pretty much clinches it since that ups the ante for being a form of spam.

    5. No one wants to be contacted on behalf of someone’s client.


      If you want to make a pitch, buy an ad.

  5. Hello Rob. I loved your coverage of Computer-generated PR spam trying not to look like computer-generated PR spam.
    perhaps you’d like to hear about aardvarks. I have lots of info about aardvarks I can send you, although as of now they are not arranged as infographics.

    1. There was a short story recently about a human trying to prove they weren’t a computer and failing, a sort of nightmarish invertion of the Turing test.

      Even so, the protagonist managed a little better than saying that a “good portion of the website was dedicated to” the name of its own podcast and an algorithmically-generated hot topic that’s been on the navigation bar for 2 hours.

  6. Wired runs ads in their print mag which are meant to look like articles or infographics.   They’re legit (I think I’ve seen Samsung and Intel run these info-ads) and say “advertisement” in the corner but will often fool me for a few seconds. I hate that. I feel fooled and it reflects poorly on both the advertiser and Wired.

      1. Personally I appreciate the, Advertiser Shout out. It’s honest and short. The watches Could be interesting enough to get coverage, but this way they know they will consistently be there.

        1.  Agree, the old (cooltools?) ones I didn’t like, as they felt more like concealed ads, and I felt scammed.  But the Watchismo ones are pretty harmless, and more obvious.  And watches are cool, and watchismo’s watches are very cool.

          I’m not sure that BoingBoing is a good advertising match for £50k watches, but that’s Watchismo’s problem, not mine.  As long as someone is paying BoingBoing to exist then I’m happy.

  7. Greetings Ma/Sir Beschizza,

    I represent the late SIR MALCOLM GWEEK SCIENCE DATA who has left the sum of US($$)onemillionspams that I am seekig a tranfr agent for. We will provide INFOGRAPHICS in which the sum will be transferred.


    Sir/ma Sonny Abotta

  8. Wow, horse_PR really succeeded in pushing their name to the head the pack, and on the front page of boing, and now its in front of my eyes for me to read all about… thanks a lot for spreading the wurd Rob!  Are you sure you aren’t working for horse_PR?

      1. OK, this is getting recursive.  My brain is about to explode.

        I clicked on the Twitter link to horse_PR.  The fourth post (I refuse to use “tweet” as a noun) is the following:

        “Protect Fido from natural toxins

        I.e., it’s a link to an infographic from!  This proves one of the following:

        1.   Rob is, in fact, horse_PR and is playing a massive practical joke.

        2. is actually a wholly-owned subsidiary of horse_PR.

        3.  Rob, horse_PR and are all one and the same.  This whole kerfuffle is merely linkbait to generate additional traffic for BoingBoing, and horse_PR at the same time.  Genius! 

  9. “Well, if I can’t get my article published on Boing Boing, how am I ever going to sell all these gweeks that we have in the warehouse?”

  10. During SOPA I was irritated by a computer-generated return e-mail from Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office. In my e-mail to her, I’d made a specific point to not mention the term “free speech” (or the concept) at all, instead focusing on other problems with the bill. The e-mail from her office was short, and promptly told me that, “The bill does not violate First Amendment rights to free speech because copyright piracy is not speech.” Since I’d never discussed the issue in my own letter, I have to assume mine was never read, and this was an auto-response. So much for democracy and for elected officials listening to their constituents.

  11. Honestly, I couldn’t tell that this PR email was computer-generated. There are a couple of hints, but PR emails are notoriously awkward whether generated by humans or not.

    If anything it fails only by trying too hard.

    1. Given that it came from a PR entity, it may or may not have been computer generated; but the sender certainly wasn’t human…

  12. Looks more like ESL than computer generated, to me. Way to go mocking a non-native English speaker. 

    1. ESL means you mistakenly include inaccurate content descriptors in pitches? Also, the author’s posted comment is excellently written — except for the part that has a second round of inaccurate content descriptors.

      Nice try, no cigar infographic with numbers supplied by Imperial Tobacco for you.

      1.  I’ve gotten a few of these as well – starting with “Did you get my prior email about…”  

        Thing is, I’ve gotten actual replies (though with low comprehension) when I inquired further via e-mail.  The ones I’ve gotten seem to point back to a particular graphic artist… but one who has even less web presence than my 14 year old.

        I ran one, simply because it was about something I agreed with (and linked back to a site that I would have supported anyway).  Not sure about the second, since it started with the exact same e-mail opening.

  13. There’s a new “Investigative Reporting News Format” to  debunk  Kevin Trudeau’s get rich quick scheme. It seems Mary really did receive a million dollars from the government by reading a book . And everyone else seems to be successful by following just a few simple steps. 

    The reporter  gets frustrated because she can’t find a liar or hired actor among the bunch. 

    People fall for it folks. I particularly despise the “Public Service Announcement” style ads, they should be illegal.

  14. I’ve received simmilarly worded messages through a web form on my site, where they use a lot of contextual info. To the point that I started replying to a few of them before going “wait a minute, wtf is he talking about…”
    I’m now  convinced that artificial intelligence won’t be a military skynet run amok, but billions of spambots talking to each others.

    1.  Creepy.  I wonder how many email conversations are taking place this minute, between spambots with no human insight or intervention.  Kinda fascinating, and sad, and weird.

  15. When I read the mail my first impression was that it was template based, not computer generated. A template that is designed for someone who is perhaps not familiar with the subject matter. Or perhaps a template that was used for a simple mail merge operation based on a simple database.

    1.  I think this is more likely too; if you’re emaling more than about 5 people with the same general message it makes sense to not do it manually, not necessarily evil or spammy, just efficient. This email is still silly of course, relying far too much on nav items making sense in this context.

  16. Trying to automate the process of developing a relationship. Ugh.

    I work in PR/marketing, and try to build genuine trustworthy professional relationships with journalists, because I give a shit. This sort of thing pisses me off. They’re not marketers, they’re spammers.

    That said, as a hobbyist coder, I find this stuff really interesting :)

    1.  Some people don’t have the resources or time to develop proper relationship’s in PR, it’s sad but true – especially with regards to smaller companies.  I actually consider this an attempt to not be spam, it just shoots itself in the foot a bit.

      I could be wrong, and it could be from some horrible SPAM monster, but that’s what I took from it.

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