THE delicious Jamie Oliver sent me an email this week. An “exclusive” email, just for me. I have been selected from thousands of the chef’s drooling female fans to receive the “well exciting news” about his new book. And he sent me lots of love and five kisses too.

I was really looking forward to my Happy Days with the Naked Chef (that’s the title of his latest book, not my illicit fantasies about aphrodisiacal menus and my very own personal chef) when I realised I wasn’t really special at all. Because on closer inspection, it appears that my love letter from the pukka tukka man himself has actually just been cut and pasted into another letter, also “especially” for me (do I hear Kylie and Jason wailing in the background?) but this time from the food and drink editor at Amazon.co.uk.

A tad disappointing, I have to say. Not so disappointing that I didn’t order my advance copy of the book, (at 30% discount, how could I refuse?) but disappointing enough to have me reaching for the leanest, lowest-in-fat, frozen-beyond-resuscitation, TV dinner I could find. A pathetic protest that saw me dialing the local Indian takeaway a mere 90 minutes later. Don’t laugh; you’ve all been there.

I think I must be quite naïve really. You see, I got all excited a few weeks ago too when I got an email from Guy Kawasaki, the former Apple marketing evangelist. He wanted to introduce me to Garage Technology Ventures, formerly Garage.com.

Kawasaki revealed all the hot gossip about his new venture capital investment bank, told me about his new pad (3300 Hillview Avenue, Suite 150, Palo Alto, California) and even thanked me for my continued support. Not being aware I had previously proffered anything other than a recommendation for his marketing book – based on his supremely successful efforts at Apple – I realised this was another clever marketing ploy. A new one, obviously, having learned all his other ones from his book, this one took me unawares.

I must have inadvertently lobbed my email address onto a weird and wonderful database somewhere, one which has been sold over and over and over again and fallen into the sticky fingers of the “viral marketer”.

I’ve done some research recently into viral marketing and it’s truly clever stuff; technology harnessed to some genuine innovation and creativity on the part of a very few smart marketers. However, I haven’t experienced viral marketing at its best. I think I experienced it at its very worst.

Both attempts – by well-known businesses who should know better – were nothing more that blatant misuse of someone else’s database to send a truly bland message, the most useful bit of which in each is the “remove me from your mailing list” par. In brief, rather than clever and effective viral marketing, both Amazon.co.uk and Garage.com have masterminded little more than a rather sad and pathetic direct mailer.

So before you add my email address to your mailing list, just think for a moment: if you are smart enough to recognise that viral marketing will work for your business – and it won’t work for everyone – then please be smart enough to recognise also that you need to use a bit of imagination before you get the attention you think you deserve.

Oh, and Jamie, if you’re reading, this doesn’t mean I’ll junk your next email – if you really mean it, I’ve got a great idea for a recipe that we should talk about offline!

NB From 10 Years Ago Today – I suspect the same viral marketing disasters have simply got worse with the advent of social media. What’s your experience?