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Is that a birthday greeting or are you just trying to sell me something?

by Staff
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Automated birthday emails are a constant of modern life, right up there with death, taxes, and computer updates with poor timing. Once a year, my inbox fills to the brim with reminders of just how many companies I’ve entrusted with my birthdate.

But not this year. No, this year was going to be different. This year I went on a relentless unsubscribing kick, just ruthlessly clicking the unsubscribe button whenever something from a corporate mailing list came into my inbox. But I knew that some things were definitely going to still sneak through.

See, companies can’t resist a birthday. It’s one of the easiest things they can do to get someone’s attention. “​​Birthday emails are one of the most effective emails you can send,” says a blog post from Campaign Monitor, an email marketing company, right before dropping some absolutely bonkers claims including: “Birthday emails generate 342% higher revenue per email than promotional emails.”

No wonder companies want to wish you a happy birthday so bad — they’ll ride that feel-good feeling of a birthday wish straight to the cash register where you’ll get a donut to go along with your free coffee or take advantage of 20 percent off this month only to get that thing. You know, the one you probably weren’t going to get until you got that email and then thought, “It’s my birthday — hell yes I deserve a treat!”

My unsubscribing kick, to be clear, was unrelated to all of these corporate birthday shenanigans. I love a birthday treat as much as the next person; I just wanted less of a firehose of emails the rest of the year. But my natal day was going to be a test — since companies can’t resist a good birthday email, I knew that any lists I was already on would definitely send something.

Here’s how it went:

  • Weeks before my birthday, I get an email from a local boutique with a discount code to use at any time during my birthday month: “Happy birthday from us to you! Enjoy 20% off any purchase this month, because you deserve it.” I do deserve it, local boutique. But I know your game. You won’t get me in to buy those cute notebooks… right? I can stay strong.
  • A week before my birthday a credit monitoring company emails me: “Happy birthday! Because nothing says ‘I like to party’ more than a message about your finances.’” They also want to remind me “that no matter where you’re at with your credit scores – or your age – you are so much more than any number can measure. Check in and expand your horizons.” No thanks. I’m good. If you can’t get my birthday right, how am I going to trust those credit scores?
  • My birthday arrives. I get an email from my alma mater, which sent a video that implied I would probably be alone in front of my laptop celebrating my birthday. They are dead wrong. I was alone and in front of my phone at the time.
  • Still morning, and my email is surprisingly bare except for emails from family and friends. Nice going, me! I get around to checking out the birthday animation on my Apple Watch. It had balloons. I get a kick out of it. I show it to my eight-month-old, who was momentarily fascinated and then resumed her usual morning routine of playing “grab the trash can.” She did not wish me a happy birthday. I forgave her.
  • The New York Blood Center emails me to wish me a happy birthday. Those vampires always want my blood, and my birthday is no exception; they include a link to make an appointment in their email. It’s a good reminder that blood banks are in a tight spot this summer with blood shortages across the country. Donate if you can!
  • Regal emails me offering a free small popcorn — if only I would come see a movie. I have not been to a theater since 2019. It will take more than a tub of popcorn to get me to go back. But also, now I want popcorn.
  • Afternoon, and my dentist emails me. Unlike the blood center and movie theater, they aren’t overtly trying to get me to go anywhere. They just wish me a great day and make an obligatory dentist joke about smiles. I feel guilty anyway. How long has it been since I went to the dentist? Too long.
  • I weigh myself on my smart scale. It tells me my weight and then, in a surprise move, flashes a happy birthday message complete with digital fireworks. This is nice, I guess? It would be nicer if immediately afterward it didn’t “helpfully” tell me that I’d gained a pound. I immediately blame the birthday cookie dough I snuck out of the fridge earlier. It was worth it.

Overall, not so bad, but I clearly hadn’t factored in my gadgets and appliances when I started this mini data collection.

Next year, I’ll see if my microwave has anything to say for itself.

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