Verkada Deceptive Email Subject Lines

Published Dec 20, 2021 14:52 PM
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Verkada sales reps frequently use deceptive subject lines that hide their commercial intent when sending unsolicited sales emails to end users, contrary to FTC guidelines, emails obtained by IPVM show.

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IPVM has analyzed thousands of emails sent from Verkada to various US school districts over the last three years. The company, which prides itself on 'disrupting the security sales channel,' utilizes sales tactics that also include making it difficult to stop receiving unsolicited messages and aggressive cold calling.

US FTC: Don't Use Deceptive Subject Lines

In its compliance guide for commercial solicitation, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) directs businesses to ensure the subject line of a marketing email correlates with the email's content, stating, "Don't use deceptive subject lines":

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Additionally, the FTC disclaims that messages should be identified as advertisements:

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Moreover, the US CAN SPAM ACT addresses misleading subject lines explaining:

Many senders of unsolicited commercial electronic mail purposefully include misleading information in the messages' subject lines in order to induce the recipients to view the messages.

Concluding with a prohibition against them:

Prohibition of deceptive subject headings.--It is unlawful for any person to initiate the transmission to a protected computer of a commercial electronic mail message if such person has actual knowledge, or knowledge fairly implied on the basis of objective circumstances, that a subject heading of the message would be likely to mislead a recipient, acting reasonably under the circumstances, about a material fact[.]

"Thoughts" Subject Line

Contrary to FTC guidance, Verkada frequently uses "thoughts," sometimes followed by the recipient's first name, in its unsolicited sales emails.

For example, in February 2021, Verkada account executive Nick DeVito sent a Pittsburgh Public Schools employee this message with the subject "Thoughts on this one?":

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Similarly, in October 2020, Verkada account executive Matt Zielinski used "thoughts Joseph?" as the subject of an email to a Texas school superintendent:

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While Antonio Freschet, currently a regional sales manager at Verkada, emailed an Illinois superintendent with the subject of "Thoughts?" in April 2020:

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Top Salesman

Verkada has been doing this for years, e.g., Adam Knutson, then an RSM, now a Director, emailed a Southern California school district in 2019 with "right contact?" as the subject:

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Last year, Verkada's Ryan Young named Knutson one of their top performers:

They've been working remote and are truly making a lot of money right now. Adam Knutson, I haven't seen him in eight months, that guy was in the top three the last two quarters and probably made $500K in the last six months.

"Any Direction/Guidance Is Appreciated"

Aside from "thoughts?," IPVM found that "Any direction is appreciated" and its variant "Any guidance is appreciated" are also common misleading subject lines for Verkada's unsolicited marketing emails.

In May 2021, Verkada account executive Clay Cooledge wrote to an Illinois school employee using "Any direction is appreciated":

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Likewise, fellow Verkada account executive Nick DeVito contacted a Philadelphia school fire safety specialist in April 2021 with "Any guidance is appreciated":

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And Verkada senior manager, field marketing Joyce Zheng exchanged a series of emails in February with a school employee in northern Florida using the "any direction is appreciated" variant:

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"Quick Question, Thanks" Subject Line

"Quick question, thanks" followed by the recipient's name is yet another common misleading subject line often employed by Verkada, as in this instance by marketing development representative Zack Pikna in October 2021:

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Ryan Pozivenec, currently a Verkada channel development lead, mistakenly used the recipient's last name when messaging a San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) employee with the "Quick question, thanks" subject in July:

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While Verkada marketing development representative Lily Spain used the same subject line in an unsolicited email to another SDUSD employee a year earlier, in July 2020:

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Verkada: No Response

Verkada did not respond to two IPVM requests for comment for this report.

The Problem With Vague, One-to-Three-Word Subject Lines

These short, vague subject lines, often with the person's name included, can confuse the recipient into believing that they have been contacted by someone they know rather than by a salesperson soliciting them.

They are a popular Silicon Valley sales tactics, as this recent, well-liked LinkedIn post shows:

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The infrequency of FTC enforcement combined with the power of increasing open rates by using deceptive and misleading subject lines make this a highly desirable tactic for sellers, like Verkada, and a burden on recipients who need to spend time and effort to figure out if the emails are legitimate communications from colleagues or hidden sales solicitations.

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