By Daniel J. Solove
Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham is a timeless classic that is read to millions of children. At first the simple rhymes and cute drawings are alluring. But parents will soon discover the book’s terrifying equation: The tiresome repetition of the book multiplied by the number of times a child will want the book read. The result is mind-numbing and will make parents curse the day they decided to make the book part of their child’s library.
But it gets even worse. What appears on the surface as a cute story about a guy who is convinced to try a new breakfast cuisine (most likely artificially-colored and highly-processed) is actually a much more sinister tale. Green Eggs and Ham is a vivid demonstration of incessant privacy violations by a fanatical marketer.
The book chronicles how a character named Sam-I-am tries to convince another character (who is not named) to try green eggs and ham. The unnamed character, whom I’ll refer to as the “consumer,” says that he doesn’t like green eggs and ham.
Sam-I-am apparently doesn’t know how to take no for an answer. Sam-I-am’s confidence must be based on Big Data and behavioral marketing. Sam-I-am’s profile of the consumer (likely formed by an extensive digital dossier of the consumer’s behavior, purchases, eating habits, and other things) indicates that the consumer will like green eggs and ham. To Sam-I-am, the consumer just hasn’t realized it yet, and Sam-I-am wants to save the day and help this poor consumer realize that his life isn’t really worth living without green eggs and ham. So he engages in a relentless marketing campaign to convince the consumer to try green eggs and ham.
“Would you like them here or there?” Sam-I-am asks.
The consumer replies:
I would not like them here or there.
I would not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
To most, this answer should be enough to stop, but the story is just beginning. Sam-I-am asks the consumer if he’ll eat them in a house, or with a mouse, or in a car, or in a tree . . . and so on . . . and on . . . and on. Each time, the consumer states that he doesn’t want to try green eggs and ham.
For example, the consumer says:
I will not eat them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them ANYWHERE!
Did you notice any ambiguity in the statement above? To Sam-I-am, though, further clarification is required. There are an infinite number of ways in which the consumer could conceivably eat green eggs and ham, and Sam-I-am is intent on proceeding through them all as if in a parable by Jorge Luis Borges.
Sam-I-am follows the consumer everywhere, like a deranged stalker, constantly shoving green eggs and ham in front of his face and asking him incessantly if he will try them. No matter where the consumer goes – in a car, a train, a tree, or a boat – Sam-I-am is there pestering him with his plate of green eggs and ham.
Sam-I-am even follows the consumer to the middle of the ocean. There is no escape!
The book would make for a great parable about how not to market, except its ending is all wrong.
** SPOILER ALERT **
The book ends with the consumer, weary from all the harassment, finally agreeing to try green eggs and ham to get Sam-I-am to leave him alone.
Sam-I-am seems so gleeful at this moment, and it makes me wonder: Why does it matter so much to Sam-I-am that this person try green eggs and ham? Is it really worth all this effort? Doesn’t Sam-I-am have a life?
But it’s Sam-I-am’s lucky day. The consumer likes green eggs and ham and thanks Sam-I-am.
I suppose the aim of the book is to teach the value of persistence, but on the whole, the lesson of the book seems to be that it is okay to pester people incessantly even if they say no a million times. Invade privacy, follow people to the ends of the earth, because you know what they will like better than they do. And if they like what you’re selling, they’ll promptly forget about your harassment and love you.
This is the exact opposite of what good marketers should think or do.
I think that Sam-I-am is certainly suffering from a personality disorder, and is engaging in stalker behavior that should justify a temporary restraining order. Sam-I-am is an obnoxious creep. He is a villain. He is worse than the Grinch!
Green Eggs and Ham would be a great book if it had an appropriate ending. So I have rewritten the ending. Were he alive, I am certain Dr. Seuss would agree that the following is a big improvement:
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them Sam-I-am.
So I will not eat them here or there
I will not eat them anywhere.
I will only eat them with you dead.
So, Sam-I-am . . . off with your head.
Hey, I like green eggs and ham.
And I really like no more Sam-I-am.
This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. This post was originally posted on his blog at LinkedIn, where Solove is a “LinkedIn Influencer.” His blog has more than 900,000 followers.
Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz of the Privacy + Security Forum (Oct. 21-23 in Washington, DC), an event that aims to bridge the silos between privacy and security.