Thursday Buzz: Happy Birthday From Your Favorite Marketer

Imagining a world where a birthday wish turns from effective marketing tool to customer irritant. Also: why your association's magazine shouldn't give a discount to an advertiser relying on an in-house ad agency.

“Birthdays can be fun, and we can’t wait to celebrate yours. In our excitement, we accidentally sent out your birthday greeting too soon.”

That’s an excerpt from a message that Association Executive Management’s David M. Patt says he received from Sears recently—an apology from a department store chain for accidentally sending a birthday announcement.

Patt notes that Sears’ strategy for correcting the error was effective and “did the trick.” But he pointed out a “suspicious afterthought” he had: “Was the message really sent in error?”

But here’s another question worth asking: Do themed marketing messages threaten the sanctity of the birthday? It sounds like an odd question, admittedly. But some people have pointed out that it might be a concern.

Last month, a Medium article by internet culture writer Joanne McNeil made this very point, criticizing the practice of using the birthday as an excuse for a cheap marketing touchpoint:

But let us call this what it is: birthday harassment. Social networks can use your birthday to determine what people are important to you. Brands use your birthday as an excuse to tell you they exist. The data tracking and governing algorithms that are part of your everyday internet experience become more visible on your birthday.

McNeil noted that Google changed its doodle for her, and she even got a tweet from ZocDoc offering up birthday wishes. This led her to an offbeat idea—imagining a world where the internet of things would lead to coffee makers sending her caffeinated birthday wishes.

Maybe that’s taking it too far. But it’s worth considering whether a birthday wish will eventually turn from signal to noise for the people you’re trying to reach.

The Discount Game

For many association magazines, it’s common to give discounts to ad agencies for the services they provide their clients. But this has led to a problem, argues association marketing guru Scott Oser: In order to get the discount directly, many clients built their own in-house agencies.

This was fine at first, as the in-house agencies offered services similar to an external agency’s. But Oser writes on the Association Media & Publishing website that something changed:

“In the majority of organizations now, the in-house agency is simply one or two people who design their organization’s ads and select the media outlet(s) where these ads will be run,” he writes. “These individuals are not an actual in-house agency, but they call themselves one so that they can receive the 15 percent discount. And even if they are fair enough to admit to a publisher that they are not, in fact, an in-house agency, they still have no problem asking the publisher for the agency discount.”

This, Oser says, is why associations relying on ad revenue from magazines should turn a skeptical eye. Thoughts? (ht @meganpowers)

Other good reads

Sometimes a business model can use a shift in another direction. contributor Christina Desmarais offers tips on what questions to ask when considering a model shift.

No more asking for likes in exchange for discounts: Facebook is banning the practice.

Robots may not be stealing our jobs, but this robotic bellhop launched by the Aloft hotel chain might put a couple of employees out of business.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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