Is this a birthday message or are you just trying to sell me something?


Automated birthday emails are a constant of modern life, as are death, taxes, and badly-timed computer updates. Once a year, my inbox fills to the brim with reminders of how many companies I entrusted with my date of birth.

But not this year. No, this year was going to be different. This year I launched a relentless unsubscribe, simply clicking the unsubscribe button every time something from a business mailing list hit my inbox. But I knew that some things were definitely still going to slip through.

You see, companies can’t resist an anniversary. 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, just before dropping some absolutely crazy claims including: “Birthday emails drive 342% more revenue per email than promotional emails.”

No wonder companies want to wish you a happy birthday so badly – they’ll pass that feel-good feeling of a birthday wish straight to the cash register where you’ll get a donut to go with your free coffee or enjoy 20 percent off reduction this month only to get this thing. You know, the one you’re probably not going to get until you get this email and then think, “It’s my birthday – damn yes I deserve a treat!

My unsubscribe kick, to be clear, was unrelated to all that corporate anniversary shenanigans. I love a birthday present as much as the next person; I just wanted less of a firehose of emails the rest of the year. But my birthday was going to be a test – since companies can’t resist a good birthday email, I knew all the lists I was already on would be absolutely to send something.

Here’s how it went:

  • A few weeks before my birthday, I received an email from a local shop with a discount code to use anytime during my birthday month: “Happy Birthday from us to you! Enjoy 20% off any purchase this month, because you deserve it.” I do merit, local shop. But I know your game. You’re not going to make me buy those pretty notebooks… are you? 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 reminding myself “that no matter where you are 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 fine. If you can’t get to celebrate my birthday, how am I going to trust these credit scores?
  • My birthday is coming. I get an email from my alma mater, who sent a video implying that I’ll probably be alone in front of my laptop to celebrate my birthday. They are completely wrong. I was alone and in front of my phone at the time.
  • Still in the morning, and my email is surprisingly blank except for emails from family and friends. Well done, me! I move to check out the birthday animation on my Apple Watch. There were balloons. I have a kick. I show it to my eight-month-old, who was momentarily fascinated, then went back to his usual morning routine of playing “take out the trash.” She didn’t wish me a happy birthday. I forgave him.
  • The New York Blood Center sends me an e-mail to wish me a happy birthday. These 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 tough spot this summer with blood shortages across the country. Donate if you can!
  • Regal sends me an e-mail offering me a little free popcorn – if only I came to see a movie. I haven’t been to the theater since 2019. It will take more than a pot of popcorn to get me back. But also, now I want popcorn.
  • In the afternoon, and my dentist emails me. Unlike the blood center and the cinema, they don’t overtly try to get me to go anywhere. They just wish me a good day and make an obligatory dentist joke about smiles. I feel guilty anyway. Since when did I go to the dentist? Too long.
  • I weigh myself on my smart scale. It tells me my weight, then, in a surprise gesture, displays a happy birthday message accompanied by digital fireworks. It’s nice, I guess? It would be better if immediately afterwards it didn’t do “usefully” tell me that I had taken a pound. I immediately blame the birthday cookie dough I took out of the fridge earlier. It was worth it.

All in all, not bad, but I clearly hadn’t considered 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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