Boomers Get Personalized

Dear (YOUR FULL NAME HERE),
Have you noticed the preponderance of personalization permeating your personal snail mail and email these days? If so, you are far from alone. Once the purview of mail order businesses before they morphed into the world of e-commerce, now there is hardly an offer of any kind — whether delivered by the post office or into your inbox — that does not employ some form of name personalization.

Mister Boomer has received an increasing number of these lately, including charity requests for money, outright “cold call” sales offers (everything from auto warranty extenders to credit cards and cemetery plots!) or companies he has previously done business with thanking him for earlier business and begging for more. Mister B has observed, with some curiosity, that they fall into roughly three categories: First, the more traditional approach sticks with a formal letter greeting opening with a full, “Mister Boomer” personalization. These tend to not repeat the name personalization in every paragraph, but do generally conclude a plea by calling out the name. Secondly, there are those that may start out with a courteous salutation, but quickly transform into what can only be described as, “there, I said ‘hello,’ now we can call you by your first name.” Can you imagine that, (YOUR FIRST NAME HERE)? You are on first-name basis with people you don’t even know! The third are the ones that make no pretensions, and go directly to first name mentions throughout. These last two particularly irk Mister Boomer. Does it do the same for you, (YOUR FIRST NAME HERE)?

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time “personalization” was reserved for people we actually knew, either in terms of correspondence through the mail, or by in-person relationships. For many boomers, perhaps their first personalized letter came from Santa Claus. After writing a list of requests to jolly old St. Nick, many post offices offered a personalization service reply, direct from Santa, of course, mailed back to little Susie or Jimmy. Other than birthday cards from relatives, it was more than likely the first time they received a letter that was personalized. For Mister Boomer, one of the earliest memories of personalization is from an in-person interaction. When his mother walked him to the bank and opened a savings book account with him, each time he returned to the bank to make a deposit, the teller would cheerfully ask, “How are you today, Master Boomer?” Once Mister B turned 18, the bank tellers called him “Mister Boomer,” a practice that did not end until he moved from the area and changed banks. When he began frequenting local establishments in his twenties, he might be greeted with a friendly, “Mister Boomer” shout-out by a bartender or restaurant hostess or owner. When the relationship was solid enough, the correct etiquette for those situations, so we were taught, was to tell them in response to call you whatever first name or nickname you preferred, prefacing the response with, “please,” of course.

Boomers were taught to respect their elders and people in authority. Boomers would never call a friend’s parent by their first name. You didn’t do that when you were young, right (YOUR FIRST NAME)? Some later-year boomers may recall a “cool” teacher asking the class to call him by his first name (these types were usually males, for some reason), but that was never an option in the 1950s and ’60s. Teachers were always addressed as Mr., Mrs. or Miss, never Pete, Cheryl or Kathy. This may be one of the first instances Mister Boomer can conjure where name personalization precluded a longer-term association.

By the 1970s, the atmosphere became more relaxed for some boomers. Aunts, uncles, friends of parents and others allowed boomers under the age of 21 to call them by their first name, though it was still the exception to the rule. It was around this time that direct mail began its descent into the world of name personalization. Mister B thinks it may have started in earnest with that company that used to try to sell magazines through the mail by having an annual sweepstakes. All you had to do, (YOUR FULL NAME), was look inside the envelope and return the winning ticket. That’s right, the personalization started on the outside envelope. Once inside, the company quickly switched to a first-name basis, imploring the reader to make their order of magazines and send in the sweepstakes entry, or else miss out on winning more money than they dreamed possible. Mister Boomer’s mother used the sweepstakes as her opportunity to renew her Good Housekeeping or McCall’s magazines, so she wouldn’t miss her chance at becoming a big money winner. It worked in her case.

In a world where some top elected officials call other government officials by their first name, or worse, nickname, is it any wonder that this fake personalization practice continues to spread? To make matters worse, marketing data states that personalization works: people are more apt to answer email when their name appears in the subject line, and act on emails more often when their name is used in the body of the text. Even worse, Adage reports that in a recent survey of marketers, a full one-third said the most important tool for marketing in the near future is personalization. Thank goodness Mister Boomer readers have more sense than the average blog reader. (YOUR FIRST NAME HERE), you’d never fall for a blatant exploitation such as that, would you? Just because someone called you by name, doesn’t mean you’d share the info with all your friends and family and forward a blog URL through your social media, right (YOUR FIRST NAME HERE)?

Well fellow boomer (YOUR FIRST NAME HERE), how do you feel about this ongoing personalization trend? Is it “thumb’s up,” “thumb’s down” or “Eh? Makes no difference.”

2 thoughts on “Boomers Get Personalized”

  1. “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine…Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy…” Senator Lloyd Bentsen to Senator Dan Quayle.

  2. My name is Robert. Those who know me know that I prefer to be called Bob, not Rob. So I really can’t stand those non-friends who call me “Rob”. That is even worse than the emails or snail mails described in Misterboomer’s essay.

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