I recently had a birthday and the automated emails went into overdrive. I received greetings from my credit union, insurance agency, dental insurance, periodontist, alma mater, and a dozen other businesses. The American Red Cross (on my actual birthday) wanted me to forego gifts and ask people to donate instead. A little late for that!

I also received a host of “free birthday gifts” that were really marketing ploys in a weak disguise. Get free soap with a purchase. Get free popcorn (when you buy a ticket) at the movies. Get a free cookie or scoop of ice cream (as if that is all you will order at the restaurant). Ditto with a free appetizer at the steakhouse, or one-month free for a streaming service. Discounts of 5% or 20% at two stores could be genuine benefits if I don’t go crazy shopping because of them.

The birthday greeting that made the best impression was a card from my financial advisor — which included a free scoop of ice cream. To me, that seemed like a genuine gift instead of being self-serving when it came from the restaurant itself. I also appreciated a free sandwich from a fast food establishment — something substantial which I will definitely use — and enjoyed a “birthday video” from the university where I teach.

The bottom line is that you may feel clever by sending a personalized birthday message, but know that it is a crowded field. Because automation makes it so easy, so many are doing it and it loses its luster quickly. Save your wishes for blowing out your own candles.

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