The American Express Mess
What triggered this column was a letter to this publication from Anthony Greene in London on my musings last week about how to gussy up important e-mails in order to give them gravitas. In our exchange, he wrote:
Thank you, Denny. A nice and utterly relevant piece. Your story about the Ticketmaster e-mail, and how much you appreciated their thoughtfulness, has reminded me of what I regard as one of the greatest missed opportunities in the history of marketing. Every time I use my American Express Centurion Card I cannot help but notice the following words printed on the front, “MEMBER SINCE 82”. So, during the whole of last year, every time I used the card a lightening thought crossed my mind, “Gosh, that’s 25 years!” But did American Express remember this auspicious occasion? Unfortunately no. Despite having the relevant data, there was no email, no thank-you card, no offer, no invitation to spend more, no phone call. Nothing. That really made me feel that American Express doesn’t give a damn about my custom and 25 years of brand loyalty. I would recommend for American Express to headhunt the marketing people from Ticketmaster, who at least know how to show they care!
I go back 58 years with American Express.
Anthony Greene is correct.
In 1949 my biographer/historian father Alden Hatch was contracted to create the official biography of the American Express Company on the anniversary of its centenary the following year.
The company had a storied past, beginning with its founding in 1850 as an express delivery service by Henry Wells, William G. Fargo (as in Wells Fargo) and John Butterfield. In 1882 it started a money order business, and nine years later introduced the traveler’s checque. Early in the twentieth century, it entered the travel business and began opening branch offices around the world that became headquarters, banks and post offices for American voyagers and expats. If you wanted to contact a friend or family member anywhere in the world, you needed only the itinerary and then to write the person c/o American Express Office in a distant city. It would be held until the person picked it up. When you received a letter from a friend from abroad, the return address could well have been: