Boomers Get Personalized

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.”

Leave It To Mister Boomer

Mister Boomer envisioned a lost episode of Leave It To Beaver this past week. It centered around the Beaver tearing a hole in his jeans:

Leave It To Beaver: The Lost Episode

The Beaver walks up to his home. June Cleaver spots him coming and, wiping her hands on her apron, immediately meets him on the porch.

June: Theodore, what happened? You have a tear in your pants!

The Beaver: Oh, it’s nothing. I was playing on the school monkey bars and got caught on one of the bolts. I hardly bled at all.

June: Look at that tear! Come on, I’ll sew it up before supper.

Wally and Eddie Haskell walk up and listen to the conversation, while at the same time Ward Cleaver pulls into the driveway, home from a long day at work. All three converge on the porch with the Beaver and June.

The Beaver: I was thinking, mom, maybe you could just leave it the way it is.

June: What! Whatever do you mean, Theodore?

The Beaver: Well, Wally was saying how some of the cool kids at school have holes in their jeans. Right, Wally?

Wally: Hey, leave me out of it, Beav.

Eddie Haskell: Yeah, Wally doesn’t know anything about what is cool! Hey, Beaver, when we were your age, our dungarees were made of strong stuff. We couldn’t punch a hole in them if we wanted to! What are yours made of, two-ply?

June (bewildered, but ignoring Eddie): So you think you want to be like the cool kids and have a hole in your jeans?

The Beaver: Well, with a face like this, I can only be so cool, so yeah, why not?

June: WHY NOT??!!?? Just because other misguided children want to walk around with holes in their jeans doesn’t mean you have to do it, too! If they wanted to jump off a bridge, would you want to do that, too?

Ward comes over and wraps an arm around her shoulder and gently nudges the now trembling Mrs. Cleaver to the front door.

Ward to Eddie: Will you be staying for supper, Eddie?

Eddie Haskell: No thanks, Mr. Cleaver. I got to be going. See you tomorrow, Wally!

Eddie leaves as the Cleaver family enters the house. Ward sits June in a chair in his den, her eyes glazed over and holding back sobs.

Ward addresses the Beaver: You know, being cool isn’t all its made out to be. I was young once, too, you know. All my friends had zoot suits, but you know what I did? I refrained from buying one. It wasn’t really for me, now was it, Theodore?

Ward lights his pipe that he pulled from his jacket pocket.

Ward: Did you stop to consider what other people would think of your mother, letting you walk around with a hole in your jeans? This is the 1960s, Theodore. People fought for our freedom to create the kind of life where people wouldn’t have to walk around with holes in their jeans. Would you want people to think your mother wasn’t doing her duty? Do you understand, now, Theodore?

The Beaver:: Yes, sir. I guess so.

June makes a remarkable recovery and pops up out of the chair.

June: Wally, take Theodore upstairs and pour hydrogen peroxide and some mercurochrome on his bloody knee. Theodore, change those pants and you boys wash up for supper. I’ll mend them after I do the dishes.

June exits for the kitchen as Ward sits in his chair to read the newspaper.

Wally: Come on, Beav. What were you thinking?

The boys walk up the stairs. Roll credits.

The situation that prompted this hallucinogenic flashback was a tear Mister B has in the knee of his jeans. Mister B had written before about the trend of torn jeans (see: Boomers and Torn Jeans: The Evolution from Time-to-Replace to High Fashion). But this was different; it happened to him! One day, out of the blue, as he bent, the fabric flexed over his knee and split horizontally in two places.

At first, Mister Boomer thought maybe he’d just go with the flow. No one would give him a second look, with the proliferation of torn denim parading around the streets these days. After only one wearing, though, the tears grew wider, exposing his entire knee to the elements. This was not the season for exposed knees, so Mister Boomer did the only thing he thought he could do: he grabbed needle and thread and attempted to mend the tears.

Despite his rudimentary sewing skills (Mister B never took Home Ec), he was able to stitch the fabric in a manner that reminded him of scars on Frankenstein’s monster. “Maybe I’ll start a new trend,” he thought, admiring his amateur repair.

When the time came to rotate from one pair of jeans to another, Mister B put on his Frankenstein jeans. Within an hour, the fabric tore, not along the hastily sewn stitches, but directly above and below the thread line; the repair thread was stronger than the fabric.

Mister B is befuddled, now. If men his age are out in public with torn jeans, people will feel sorry for the old man on a fixed income who can’t afford a new pair of jeans. So much for being cool. What is maddening, though, is the jeans were a major brand name. The fabric obviously is not of the strength and durability we remember in our boomer days. Just what are they made out of, two-ply?

What have you done about torn jeans at your age, boomers? Or are you sitting at the cool kids’ table, sporting your designer tears?