You’ve Got Mail. But Check With Your Wife

Years ago, it became clear to me that responsible users of electronic mail were losing control of the Internet when I received an offer to enlarge my breasts followed by an offer to enlarge my johnson.

These messages, of course, came from spammers who didn’t care about the cleanliness of their mailing lists and whether they were in fact reaching men or women. Just blast away; you’re bound to hit some of each. Right?

Now, I’m almost ready to join the chorus that says the end of the effective days of e-mail, even by brand-name businesses, is nigh.

This time, the milestone came when I received two messages on the same day from my favorite hotel company, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, maintainers of the St. Regis, Sheraton, W and Westin brands.

Here was the startling proposition presented to me:

Date: Tue, 30 Nov 2004 08:00:41 -0500 (EST)
From: “Starwood Hotels & Resorts”
To: [email protected]
Subject: Share a Weekend with your Girlfriends at Westin

Naturally, I asked my wife if this would be all right with her. She wasn’t too thrilled. “Stick with the cookies,” she said. I didn’t have the heart to tell her she was confusing Westin with the Doubletree chain. Her message was clear.

Marketing mavens, take note: This is not what is meant by “customer intimacy.” That refers to the fact that you should know who your customers are and use information you gather about them intelligently, as if you were the corner store operator who knows everyone coming through the door.

Starwood keeps extensive records on me, through its Preferred Guest program. I’d hazard a guess the first useful field in the profile is the one known, commonly, as First Name. That would be “Tom.” A name picked as resoundingly male. My father, you see, bore the name Aubrey. His mail (the kind with stamps on it) too often came addressed to “Audrey.”

There is no excuse in this era of database marketing for not being able to create an e-mail distribution list that can simply separate the men from the women. If a recipient’s gender is unclear, you know what you do about that e-mail? Don’t send it. After all, why embarrass yourself? Worse, as in this case, what if a wife is not amused? Visiting your place of business could become verboten.

That afternoon, I got this helpful e-mail:

Date: Tue, 30 Nov 2004 14:50:41 -0500
From: “Starwood Preferred Guest”
To: [email protected]
Subject: Important Starwood Preferred Guest Account Information

This message touted the introduction of monthly electronic statements, in place of quarterly printed statements. This saves Starwood paper and postage. Many customers, though, would still prefer printed statements. Easier to eyeball points, program choices, etc.

If you prefer print, what could you do? Let’s see:

… If you prefer not to receive monthly e-statements, please update your profile at> However, please note that by doing so you will no longer receive any statement information.

There’s no redress here. What this says is, you can go to the site and tell Starwood not to send e-statements. But, if you do that, you won’t get “any statement information.” At all.

Silly you, the customer. You thought you had a choice in this. You don’t. Maybe I’ll just let Starwood keep sending me e-mails, and then just not read them.

After all, I love my Heavenly Bed from Westin. I bought one years ago from its toll-free number. I don’t actually have to go to Westin anymore to enjoy it.

In fact, I’m looking forward to sharing my next weekend there with my girlfriend: My wife.