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MoviePass is staffed by dogs now, apparently

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The ‘director of Barketing’ just sent out a mollifying email

Graphic by William Joel / The Verge

It’s been a grim year for MoviePass, the endlessly embattled movie subscription service. The company, which built a base of reportedly more than 3 million subscribers with a deal that let users watch a movie a day in theaters for under $10 a month, has been losing money at a prodigious rate. Over the course of 2018, it repeatedly retooled its basic subscription, forced annual subscribers onto a monthly plan, and dealt with plummeting stock prices after repeated reports that it was out of funds.

Most recently, parent company Helios and Matheson — which is facing a class-action lawsuit from its shareholders and a fraud investigationspun MoviePass off into a separate company, in an apparent attempt to dissociate itself from the toxic reactions to the increasingly limited service it could provide.

But apparently the company has a solution: cute dogs.

The latest email to subscribers is a mind-boggling attempt to disarm and placate them with a puppy. The image above was sent to users, along with the following message:

Woof! I’m Chloe, the Director of Barketing at MoviePass. I’d like to explain why from time to time you may have had a “ruff” experience with us but it turns out that I’m a dog and I can’t talk. What I do know is that I see these humans working like crazy to make MoviePass better and better for you as fast as possible. They are so grateful for your membership and support while they work it out. We’re listening. We’re learning. We’re changing.

While this is far from the first time a company has tried to charm annoyed customers with a soft message, or the first time a company has co-opted affection for dogs to push a product (this often-imitated 1973 National Lampoon cover famously set the standard for that form of marketing), there’s something particularly contrived and patronizing about this particular attempt at corporate deflection.

In the most literal sense, it implies that the erratic service of MoviePass, which has its remaining subscribers avoiding actually going to movies, may be due to the fact that some of its senior staff… are dogs. And dogs may be cute, but historically speaking, they haven’t proven particularly talented at managing companies. (Though most companies don’t even have a Barketing department, so maybe it’s not a mission-crucial subdivision? And Chloe does imply that the company’s actual day-to-day functions are in human hands.)

But more significantly, the email’s cutesy, disingenuous tone, and its utterly vague reassurances of positive changes to come, are reminders of the company’s history of disrespect toward its user base: making up nonsensical numbers to overstate its value to movie theaters; shutting down access to specific theaters and specific films without warning to manipulate the market; gathering data on its users and then claiming it never meant to use that info; billing users even after they cancel; and hand-waving unpopular decisions in corporate emails blaming app failures and technological glitches.

MoviePass has been struggling all year, and this mildly bizarre attempt at a cute stopgap feels unusually cloying and diversionary. Bad dog, Chloe. Bad dog.