Happy Birthday To Me

I’m now a member of the 40+ club, and my new status was greeted with a load of birthday email communications. Not only from friends, but from thoughtful brands, each of which remembered me in their own way. While 40 is a milestone, it is also a great time to razz your friends about getting old. So, I had a dozen or so personal birthday cards, the funniest being a singing baby from Super Laugh -- close to my heart, as my wife is seven months along.

Being so sensitive to the email space, I took particular notice of the types, presentation and trends that shaped one of the few very personal days of the year: my birthday.

Here’s a view of a few birthday messages I did (or didn’t) receive:

Pepsi: Their annual “One Man Band” message is a bit hokey, but hokey works at 40. I noticed when I looked a bit closer that they had added monkeys and other icons for singing the birthday song. What evolution in their program.



Disney: I’m a little old for Mickey, but since I’m taking my wife and seven-year-old to a Disney theme park in a few weeks, it was nice to see that Mickey remembered me. I’ve been on this list for years and never got a message from Mickey himself before. Maybe they figured out I have disposable income and kids now. It did bring back memories of my mouse hat and Minnie, but was well-received.

Clairol: OK, this does seem like a weird mix, but I used to work on the account and we revamped their birthday email years ago. It hasn’t gotten much better. I do wish they would ask my gender one of these days; I have difficulty identifying with a caricature of a woman. They have a men’s market, and I confess my hair is getting grayer by the day.

Here are a few companies I would have assumed would value my patronage and at least recognize I’m entering a Boomer-like stage in life – you know, the “I’ve got more money and will buy indiscriminately” generation.

Barnes and Noble: I spend hundreds of dollars a month here, and these folks sent me… nada. Goose egg. Not even a free cup of coffee on my next visit, which probably would have enticed me to go sooner.

Starbucks: I still don’t know why I shop there, without any loyalty program worth discussing, but a birthday email would go a long way towards justifying the four-dollar triple-adjective latte I drink every day.

Golf Courses: What do I do every year on my big day? GOLF. Yet I received nothing from any of the clubs I visit regularly. That’s a bogey in my book!

A few years back a beer company asked us to develop a creative concept for a birthday email. I asked the team: What is creative about a birthday, and how could we illustrate this with email? We brainstormed every angle of lighting and blowing out candles with humor, music and animation, and everything you could possibly give away on this day as a marketer. Creative thoughts stopped after about two minutes, until I framed what a birthday really means to a consumer, how social networking evolves this event and the relative relationship you can have with beer… they all seemed to fit.

We in the email space are looking for creative metaphors to bring our brand to life through a very impersonal channel like “marketing email.” Email and the beer category definitely have some connections -- parties, social networking, promotion, communities, humor, etc. So I asked three key questions that spawned some amazing ideas:

1.      What do people do as their birthday nears?

2.      What is the day of your birthday all about?

3.      What is the first thing you do after a great birthday party?

This line of questioning spawned ideas for a three-part birthday email series, though unfortunately only part of it was implemented.

1.      Two weeks before: We wanted to be the first one to acknowledge your birthday, and tied it to a sweeps program. We also wanted to leverage social networking to help you plan your birthday and invite your buddies through this viral component.

2.      Day of: We wanted to reward you, as it is your big day, so you would get the lighted candles with a cute song and a music download.

3.      Day after: Remember all those people who didn’t make it to your party? Here’s your opportunity to tie a little viral humor into a “Hey, you missed my party, so now you owe me a beer” message. This was delivered in a printable coupon that could be sent to others as a joke.

The value in this exercise is not to send more email on a single occasion but to find contextual reasons that have value to the consumer, tie those into behavioral use of email and also stretch the creative boundaries of your teams when they craft programs.

Oh yes, and… you owe me a beer.

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