EDITORIAL: The Annoying Part of Personalization

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While customer relationship management may be the buzz term of the year, there's a part of it that some overzealous marketers are forgetting in this day of being politically correct and protective of one's personal information at all times. I'm talking about having to rip my name off all the pages of a direct mail piece that keeps using it over and over just so a company can make it sound as if we're best friends. Depersonalizing my mail takes a lot longer than deleting some e-mails I didn't ask for.

I received a solicitation from a certain music club the other day. The message on the outer envelope reads: "Tad: Don't pay more than you have to for CDs! You can take 11 CDs for the price of one -- with no obligation to buy another, ever. Guaranteed. If you wish to take advantage of this one-of-a-kind offer, please see inside. ... Neal." Inside are five more personalized notes to me, and my newest best friend finally reveals his last name on the final page of the letter.

Now I can't just throw away the mailing as is, especially living in New York City. Prowling eyes are everywhere and identity theft is rampant, the Federal Trade Commission told Congress in testimony last week. Even the Treasury Department wised up by no longer having Social Security numbers visible on the envelopes of benefit checks. The options are to put the entire letter through my paper shredder, then leave the remains in the blue recycling bin. Or is it the green one? Or, I can rip out all the parts with my name and/or address and add them to the growing I'll-do-it-later collection in that shopping bag in my hall closet. I understand why catalogers think they should put my name, address and account number on order forms inside the catalogs, but, again, why bother? If they truly knew me as a customer, they'd know that I have used the telephone for every single purchase.

Don't get me wrong, there is a need for personalization. Nonprofit organizations use it quite effectively to get potential donors emotionally involved in their fundraising pleas. But this is for a bunch of CDs. How much lift can a mailing get just by tossing in my name six times? If I'm interested, they got me after the first or second "Tad." The rest are merely annoying.

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