The Memorial Tree Program Scam

Some people like to say, “there’s no such thing as bad press.” Unfortunately, a funeral home in Lindsay, Ontario, Canada, my hometown, found out the hard way that this saying is not always true.

The story was first reported by a Toronto newspaper, then featured on the national nightly news, retweeted to the world, and ended up on thousands of news websites. The headline reads, “Family blindsided after marketing company, funeral home cash in on father’s obituary.” 

I’ll include a link to the news story at the bottom of this newsletter, but here’s the gist of the story.

Before passing away, a man-made his dying wishes clear: if mourners wanted to donate to a cause in his name, the money should go to an educational fund he and his family set up.

The family was then shocked to learn that mourners were going to the funeral home’s website and spending $39.99 to plant a tree in the name of the deceased.

Like most news stories, there are victims and bad guys. In this case, the victims are the family members, and the bad guys are Mackay Funeral Home and Front Runner, who managed their website.

In the eyes of the family, and the news reporters, the bad guys made two mistakes. First, they didn’t ask the family if it was ok if they made some extra money off the deceased. And second, they were greedy.

The reporters do a good job of making it look like Mackay Funeral Home and Front Runner were in cahoots and trying to siphon off some of the memorial donations into their own pockets.

Then they put a big spotlight on the fact that the memorial tree program is a complete rip off.

Seriously, $39.99 to have a volunteer plant a $1 seedling on public land! It doesn’t take a CPA to figure out that somebody is making a considerable profit from this program.

To make things even worse, the reporters then lumped the bad guys in with This Canadian company was found guilty of copyright violations for harvesting obituaries so they could sell memorial products.

Here’s the thing… Mackay Funeral Home is an excellent funeral home. 

When I was growing up in Lindsay, there were two funeral homes. Mackay’s and Stoddard’s. The Stoddard family sold their business years ago. It went through a few owners and was starting to look shoddy. Eventually, Mackay bought it and spent their own money to restore it. 

Mackay would be on the shortlist if you were looking for an example of a genuinely professional funeral home. But they ended up with a black eye and a one-star Google review because of their website vendor’s memorial tree program. 

Here’s the text of the review posted on Google for the world to read.

“They advertise and sell additional products like planting a $40 “memorial tree” for pure profit (which costs $0.20 to plant) in memory of a customer’s loved one and not tell the customer this. Instead, they go behind the backs of someone grieving to make MORE money. Extremely unethical. I will never do business again with a company like this again.”

I did a little internet sleuthing, and the person who left this review lives on the other side of Canada and almost certainly has never set foot in this funeral home. He just saw the news story and felt the need to lash out.

So, what can we learn from this news story? Here are my three takeaways.

#1 – bad news goes viral faster than good news

The staff at Mackay Funeral Home provides excellent care to families in the Lindsay area. I’ve been in their funeral home, and I’ve experienced it first-hand.

Along comes a story like this, and suddenly millions of people hear that they take advantage of grieving families. All the good things they’ve done over the years are overshadowed by one unfortunate situation.

#2 – greed always comes back to bite you

The memorial tree program has a nice heart-warming feel to it. The idea of planting a tree in the name of my loved one sounds great. But at $39.99 or $29.99 or even $19.99, it’s a rip off.

Also, I’ve heard from several people that they never order flowers from a funeral home website because the prices are inflated. They blame the funeral home because they assume the owner controls the prices.

Most funeral home owners are careful to offer products at fair prices. It’s time to extend this same level of oversight to the products being offered on your website.

#3 – now is the time to get more Google reviews

Mackay Funeral Home serves over 200 families a year, yet they only had six Google reviews. The new one-star review drops their score from 5.0 down to 4.4…ouch.

Build up at least twenty five-star reviews ASAP because you never know when a one-star will land on your doorstep and ruin your online reputation.

In closing….

Mackay Funeral Home will recover, but they need to get in front of this news story. Now is not the time to let the cards play out. Instead, a positive public relations campaign might be a good idea.

Front Runner is now part of the Tributes conglomerate, so they have only so much control. As I expected, conglomerates always put profits above all else, and unfortunately, their funeral home clients are the ones getting the black eye.

Here’s the link to the news article

Here’s the YouTube video

Until next time





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