Personalisation, Personalised Direct Marketing, Personalised Promotional Marketing

When personalisation goes wrong

Written by Jason Groom
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Originally published
March 3 2016,
May 27 2020

Personalisation is the “golden thread” of what we do. That’s why we love to see examples of best practice that inspire us, even if they’re from our own competitors. Searching these out though means we often stumble across the not so good, and some positively hilarious, examples #notmyname.

What irks people most seems to be the incorrect spelling or use of their name. Whether that’s in a phone call, an email, a piece of direct mail or however else it might be delivered. So back in 2012 when Starbucks started asking customers their name in order to personalise their cup, and allegedly their visit and experience of the brand, it was bound to be problematic.

Friendly? Or disrespectful?

Ian Cranna, its then vice-president of marketing for UK and Ireland explained the move as an attempt by Starbucks to counter how impersonal the world had become, adding,

“We already know our customers, but now it is time to put a name to a face.”

But it proved controversial from the outset. The British, traditionally a little formal about these things, bristled at the very idea with Arthur Smith, star of TV's Grumpy Old Men summing it up,

"I am not looking to make friends when I go into a coffee shop… I want a pleasant but respectful distance between me and the person serving me coffee”.

Annoying? Comical? Even intentional?

Love it or hate it, four years on the practice continues and social media abounds with instances of barista boobs and coffee-maker cock-ups! Like when Alan became “Alien” and Abdul became “Apple” – and there are thousands more where those came from.

Some conspiracy theorists even believe the misspelling to be intentional. This YouTube video (NSFW as it’s a bit sweary) with nearly 11M views puts the blame squarely at the barista’s door. Others though believe it to be a ploy by the brand itself; a way to generate interest and brand mentions in the same way advertisers and copywriters use unexpected images and words knowing that, when the brain is expecting one thing and something quite different occurs, attention and interest are spiked.

What’s your Starbucks name?

But you don’t have to live near one of their local coffee-houses, or even be a drinker of coffee, to experience the full Starbucks treatment of your name. Save your money and head over here to get an appreciation of how far off the mark it’s likely to be. Unless it’s “Mark with a C” of course, in which case it’ll probably be way off Cark!

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