Randy Cassingham is a master at getting attention. His This Is True newsletter, established in 1994, is one of the first for-profit Internet newsletters. In 1994 just the concept of something fun to do on the fledgling Internet got him lots of press attention, including not just computer publications but also Newsweek, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Playboy, and more. With more than 100,000 subscribers to the weekly newsletter, his business is still going strong today.
With a significant percentage of e-mail addresses going bad every week, it takes a sustained effort to get the attention needed to keep new newsletter subscribers coming in week after week to have a successful e-mail campaign. For Randy, one attention-getting promotional idea not only went viral, it turned out to be a significant source of income.
It started in 2000, when a reader told Randy that he was going to hell for a story he wrote—it was an "anti-Christian" story, the reader claimed. When Randy tried to reason with her by saying a minister had no problem with the story, she said he was going to hell too! It was crazy, but it gave Randy a great idea: For his response he created a Get Out of Hell Free card, a parody of the Get Out of Jail Free card included in Monopoly games. He calls them the "GOOHF" card for short—pronounced "goof," of course!
He then told his newsletter readers the story about how he was condemned to hell by one of their fellow readers, ...