Lessons on U.X. from Louis C.K.

Losing out on the passive & creating value with those that aggressively opt-in…


All large text quotes are pulled directly from Louis C.K. and can be seen in the video at the end of the post.


Admittedly I wasn’t a Louis C.K. fan “before he was popular”. It was in 2011 when his his new website and DRM-Free digital distribution method tore across the internet making the front page of not just sites like Funny or Die, but tech leaders including TechCrunch and Gigaom.

Through C.K.’s front page featured posts I started laughing a lot more about Hide & Seek, Cinnabon, and “Why?”; and ended up watching an April 2013 C.K. interview with Howard Stern last night during dinner. They touched on a number of subjects including his being passed up by SNL, people that are worse than murderers, and of course the DRM-free digital download that had been front page news and as C.K. put it generated…

“A million bucks in a week.”

About a year later this led to C.K.’s decision to say “F*** you Ticketmaster!” (as Stern put it) and directly sell tickets to his tour. Again he made headlines and made more than Stern’s guessed $4.5 million, humbly correcting that it was…

“More than that… a few million dollars in like 2 days”

Once again he’d bucked the trends. Not DRM and just Ticketmaster, but social media altogether. He…

“…didn’t even advertise or tweet…”
Probably because he hates Twitter…

He managed to avoid the twitterverse through a very Web 1.0 method of emailing, or as C.K. simply put it…

“I just wrote to my people who had bought the thing [standup video] and said, ‘There’s tickets available for $45…’”

But still, how did he go from “a million” to “a few million” in a year, all through a simple email campaign, and in a promotion that went far less viral than his Live At The Beacon sale?

It was through a detail that didn’t excite Howard Stern as much as Quaaludes, money, and deadbeat dads, but that C.K. was clearly excited about taking the time to explain…

“…people opted into my… into the… mailing list”

The key UX detail that he pointed out though is how they opted-in, as C.K. tells it…

“…everything came down to my website guy said “do you want the button pre-chosen that says ‘Yes’ to the mailing list, or the ‘No’ button pre-chosen?”
It’s always the ‘Yes’…
so I made it ‘No’! You have to aggressively want emails from me to get them.”

So what? Wouldn’t he have gotten all those same email subscribers that proactively opted-in plus more if he had gone with the industry standard of having ‘Yes’ checked by default?

That’s likely correct, C.K. would have gotten more. After all Dan Ariely’s TED talk on organ donation highlighted just how big an impact a passive opt-in can have on consent rates, which showed how countries that require a proactive check to become an organ donor…

…end up with far less organ donors than countries that passively gain organ donors through requiring a proactive opt-out.

The results are shocking and look like this:

It makes a UX professional wonder how many lives they might save by getting involved at everyone’s least favorite place of the DMV…

With the countries with rates of 30% or less requiring the proactive opt-in, much like C.K. In all seriousness forcing you to wonder how many lives UX design could have saved in Denmark, The United Kingdom, and Germany.

If a designer were to go purely off of Ariely’s findings it might seem that C.K. made the wrong decision. However, given the success of his email marketing campaign and related ticket sales a different UX conclusion might be reached, such as:

By requiring customers to actively opt-in to emails, future campaigns will have a higher value in their eyes due to consciously having made a decision and assigning value to the relationship when they proactively selected ‘Yes’

A higher value than the numerous other e-commerce emails that are passively added every time a purchase is made, due to their using the organ donor program style of opt-out experience. The opt-out method likely has a far higher success rate of subscribers, if the only goal is acquiring simple consent. However, if a secondary action is necessary, unlike organ donation, like achieving a high open rate then the value created in the subscribers mind by an opt-in experience is more important to success.

In creating a meaningful following you’ve got to aim higher than passive acceptance or lack of protest and shoot for those that say yes they want more. “Said” being the key verb in this final quote from Louis C.K., a verb that can’t be acted on through inaction…

“…Everybody I write to is somebody who bought something and said ‘Yes, I want to hear from you again’”

The whole interview is great, but the relevant part starts at 59:47