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Oops! How to apologize for an email marketing mistake

· 18 min read · Email marketing · January 4, 2022
Our CPO, Gediminas.

It’s the moment when you press ‘send’. With one click, your email is fired off into the universe. There’s no turning back—but suddenly, you notice an email mistake. 

Take a deep breath in…  

… And a deep breath out.


And one more time.

Feeling a bit calmer?

While panic is the first natural reaction, it’s important to keep perspective. Remember that it’s entirely normal and human to make mistakes, and it's how you respond that makes all the difference.

The good news is that you are not alone. Email marketing mistakes can happen to anyone.

Even brands like Adidas and Airbnb have experienced email gaffes, from sharing a random cat photo, to sharing incorrect information, to more serious incidents such as inadvertently referring to the Boston Marathon bombings.

No one is immune to making email marketing mistakes. So let’s talk about what to do when these mistakes happen, and how you can recover from them with a good apology email.

Email errors could be anything from an overlooked typo, bad personalization, weird formatting, or a poorly-worded subject line. Some mistakes are less serious, and could even be quite funny, while others could severely damage the reputation of your brand. 

Here are 7 common email marketing errors that you’ll want to look out for. 

We all know that we should do thorough spelling and grammar checks, but occasionally, some shockers can slip through the net. Check out this webinar invitation which cordially mentions a ‘joint’ in its otherwise formal email:

email marketing mistakes - typo in email webit cee example

Ouch. While Webit CEE didn’t mean to use a drug-related term, some of their readers took it that way. To avoid these sneaky errors, try reading your text backward. Your brain will notice more mistakes as it sees words individually.

Personalized emails can create 6 times higher transaction rates. But if they go wrong, they will leave people confused and have the opposite effect. In this instance, the sender of the newsletter below would have been better off just writing a generic ‘Hi’ for the sake of their metrics! 

email marketing mistakes - personalization mistake burgerific

It’s always worth sending a test copy of the email to make sure you avoid these personalization gaffes!

You receive a promotional offer from your favorite store and open it excitedly… only to realize that they have forgotten to add the discount code or attach the coupon. Or you get redirected to the dreaded 404 page.

Email marketers spend so much time perfecting the email layout and text, that sometimes the basic elements can be missed entirely. Always triple-check that your attachments and promotions are included before sending, and that your URLs are leading to the right place. Your audience will be disappointed if they never get the chance to take you up on your offer.

Take this email from Spotify for example, which they had to resend after sharing the wrong link to Ed Sheeran’s signed CD, using the subject line: “CORRECTION: Ed Sheeran made you something special.”

Spotify correction email

Pro tip: With MailerLite, you can ask our support team to adjust the broken link in your campaign. People who haven't clicked on it yet will not even know that the link was broken in the first place!

Sometimes, email marketing mistakes can get really, really bizarre. 

Take a look at this email which e-commerce site, Fab, sent to their customers with the strange subject line ‘[TEST] PM Tracking Test’ and an even stranger image.

email marketing mistakes - random cat email mistake from FAB

Confused? Their subscribers were too. Somehow, an image of a cute cat was unintentionally inserted for the hero image, which had nothing to do with the newsletter. 

Sending an email to the wrong audience can cause confusion at best, and anger at worst. Take this example from Shutterfly who prepared a beautiful email newsletter for new parents, congratulating them on the birth of their child. However, they sent it to the wrong list!

email marketing mistakes - wrong recipient email example

Many of the recipients were not parents or did not recently have a child. While the email was well-produced, sending it to the wrong client list created some embarrassment for the brand.

Sometimes, people forget to check the news before hitting ‘send’. The controversy around this Airbnb email marketing campaign could have been avoided if they had checked their newsfeed that day to stay on top of current events. Unfortunately, Airbnb released this email at the same time as Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana in 2017.

email marketing mistakes - bad timing email from airbnb

The hurricane submerged hundreds of thousands of homes and caused a lot of devastation. People were quick to call out the poor timing and insensitive nature of Airbnb’s email, which told customers to ‘stay above the water’ and ‘live the life aquatic with these floating homes.’ 

Poorly thought-out wording can and will derail your email campaign. Even large companies are not immune to sending an offensive message by mistake. Look at this Adidas congratulatory email for runners who had just finished the Boston Marathon in 2017.

email marketing mistakes - adidas subject line mistake example

If it was any other marathon, no one would have batted an eyelid. But parallels were immediately drawn between this email campaign and the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. Not good.

You can’t always prevent mistakes, but you can control how you respond. When the mistake happens, you might want to shift the blame, run away and hide, or carry on with your day in denial. But the best thing to do is acknowledge the mistake, take full responsibility and make it right. 

But first, are there instances where you don’t need to apologize?

Absolutely! Sometimes, the mistake is so small or resolvable that it doesn’t require an apology email. This is up to your discretion, but some examples are:

  • Typos: Unless they’re offensive or insensitive (like that ‘joint’ error we saw earlier), typos aren’t generally a big deal, so it’s rarely worth drawing people’s attention to them

  • Broken links: Often, you can contact your email service provider (ESP)’s customer support team, and they can replace the wrong URL with the corrected version (unless you notice too late and people have already opened the email)

  • Wrong promo codes: This is easily fixable—you just have to change your official promo code to the one you sent, so that your customers can use it anyway

  • Double-sent emails: Normally, there’s no need to highlight this by sending yet another email to apologize for it 😉

But if you do need to send a follow-up correction email, then we’ve got you! Apologizing or explaining what happened is never easy, but we’ve identified 8 techniques that will help you get back on track, plus a couple of apology email examples.

1. Adopt the right tone in your subject line

People should be able to recognize your apology email straight from the subject line. That way, they’ll know that you want to make amends and open the email. 

How your subject line sounds will depend on your brand voice, and what the email marketing mistake was. A subject line for an offensive email mistake will sound very different to one that’s more lighthearted! 

So here are a couple of ideas we’ve cooked up for inspiration.

Formal apology email subject lines 📋
  • We appreciate your understanding

  • Amendment to our previous email

  • Let’s resolve this for you

  • CORRECTION: [insert original subject line]

Personal apology email subject lines 💚
  • {$name}, we made a mistake. Let us make it up to you.

  • Hey {$name}, let’s fix this for you

  • We messed up, {$name}. Here’s what happened

  • Can we start over, {$name}?

Empathetic apology email subject lines 🤝
  • Surprised by our last email? Us too

  • Our last email might have been confusing for you…

  • Thank you for your understanding

Lighthearted apology email subject lines 😁
  • Right, let’s try this again

  • This is the email we meant to send

  • Whoops, that was weird. Let’s sort this out

  • We goofed (blame the intern, Steve)

Of course, we do not know your exact situation, so think carefully when choosing your subject line, and put yourself in the shoes of your subscribers before deciding.

2. Personalize your apology

If your audience receives an apology email from a no-reply inbox or an impersonal message with no mention of their name, it could be another hit for them. Instead, personalize your email so that everyone feels cared about and listened to.

Let’s take a look at this example from Shutterfly. When they sent an email to the wrong client list, the CMO emailed the customers personally. Not only did they use the customer’s name, but they spoke from a human perspective and signed off their apology with John Boris, the name of their CMO. This helped to rebuild trust with their clients.

email marketing mistakes - apology after sending to wrong recipient shutterfly

When sitting down to prepare an email apology, the first priority is to personalize your email and show your clients that you care enough to reach out person to person. 

3. Acknowledge that you made a mistake

It’s hard to admit that you messed up. But if you try to point the finger elsewhere, or dodge responsibility, your subscribers will call you out on it straight away (social media can flare up in an instant)! So instead, own up, and explain clearly what happened. After their badly-worded subject line, Adidas sent the following apology letter:

email marketing mistakes - adidas apology example

They explained that they had not given thought to the email subject line, that it was insensitive, and that they had made a mistake. However tough it feels, make sure you tell your audience exactly what went wrong. 

4. Explain that it was not your intention

Always make sure you clarify your position and underline the fact that it was not your intention to cause offense, confusion or distress. After using the word ‘joint’ in their webinar invitation, the organizers reached out to clarify their stance on drugs, with a touch of humor.

email marketing mistakes - response to mistake

With statements like this, you can eliminate any doubts about your values, your image and your brand. 

5. Empathize with your audience

Show that you understand how this email marketing mistake may have affected your audience. Empathy is key. In this apology from Airbnb, their spokesman says that they hold the victims of Hurricane Harvey “in their thoughts”.

email marketing mistakes - bad timing apology example from airbnb

Again, this approach adds a personal touch to your message, which will really resonate. It shows that you care about your subscribers, making them feel more valued.

6. Use positive wording

Rather than drag yourself through the dust, try to explain things in a positive light. It’s important to acknowledge what went wrong, but you should then explain the steps you took to resolve it, and what you’ve learned from it. 

For example, let’s imagine you sent a newsletter to the wrong email list. You might want to say:

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience caused. It was a grave error and I am deeply embarrassed. It will never happen again. Please accept my sincerest apologies.”

Of course, it’s important to apologize. But using extreme negative terms, such as how embarrassed you are, won’t help the user experience—it just leaves people feeling awkward. Instead, you could try something like this:

“Yesterday, you received an email that was intended for a different subscriber group. I understand this must have been confusing for you, so I wanted to reach out and explain what happened.”

Which version do you feel more forgiving towards? We’d guess the second version! In wording that is both positive and transparent, it highlights the mistake, empathizes with how it might have impacted people, and then offers an explanation for how it happened.

Derek Murphy from the Creative Indie has this nailed. After he shared the wrong date for his online writing summit, he sent the following email.

Creative Indie correction email example

Notice how Derek calmly explains what went wrong, and then he shares the link to the event so that people can still tune in at the correct time. Plus, he also adds the slidedeck with a 40-minute video for those who cannot attend, so that no one misses out!

This is a great example of acknowledging a mistake, while still delivering an amazing customer experience.

7. Consider using humor when appropriate

Of course, humor in apology emails should be approached with caution. If Adidas or Airbnb had used humor after those email marketing mistakes, it would have made things worse and people wouldn’t have taken their apology seriously. However, if your email marketing mistake is less severe, you could think about adding a touch of humor

After sending a random cat photo to their subscribers, Fab responded by sending them a coupon in their mass apology email, loaded with cat-related puns.

email marketing mistakes - funny apology email mistake example from fab

This tactful use of humor helped to re-engage their audience and lighten the mood. However, before using humor in your apology email, ask yourself: 

  • Did my email marketing mistake cause serious offense?

  • Would this joke upset me further, if I received it in my inbox?

  • Could this worsen the situation?

If the answer to any of these questions was ‘yes’, you might want to steer clear of the puns and keep it more formal.

8. Give a special offer, coupon or discount code

Sometimes, there’s nothing like a good ol’ sweetener, to take the edge off things. Your audience may be more inclined to overlook your email marketing mistake if you add a little incentive in your apology email. Eloquii offered their audience a 50% off discount code, after double-sending their previous email.

email marketing mistakes - coupon in apology email example from eloquii

There are many different incentives that you can offer, including free delivery, coupons and discount codes. It shows your subscribers that they are important to you. It’s also an opportunity to reiterate your values, and to increase engagement with your email marketing campaign.

We’ve taken these 8 strategies and created a simple email template that you can use. 

Subject line: Let’s try this again

Hello {$name},

On [date], you received an email from me that [describe mistake here]

I’m sorry if this was [confusing/ upsetting/ disappointing] for you, and I’d love to make it up to you.

Here is [the right link/ the corrected information/ a discount code/ a free delivery offer etc.]

Thank you for your understanding.

Enjoy the rest of your day,

[Your name]

P.S. [Optional - insert humorous line here]

Remember: This is just one example, and every apology email will look different depending on your brand voice and the severity of the mistake. Keep this in mind when adapting this template for your own subscribers, and put yourself in their shoes before you hit ‘send’. 

Remember, don’t panic! Writing an email apology can be daunting, but by using these 8 techniques, you can quickly re-engage your audience and save your reputation. 

As you sit down to write the apology, ask yourself, "What would I want to hear, if I were them?"

  • Keep your email as honest and personal as possible

  • Use empathy, and consider humor, if the mistake was less serious

  • Take it as an opportunity to reiterate your company values, and reassure clients about your true intentions

Your customers are human, just like you, and they will appreciate the fact that everyone messes up. Be open about what happened, and give them an opportunity to forgive you. And if they need extra incentive to do so, a discount code or free delivery always helps!

Some extra resources…

Have you made an email mistake that you can laugh about now? Please share in the comments.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in August 2020. It has now been updated with new insights and examples on crafting the right apology email.

Jonas Fischer
I'm Jonas, Content Manager at MailerLite. I’m not the 4th Jonas Brother, but I do write content (which is similar to being a teen heartthrob). After writing for a bunch of companies over the years, I discovered my professional passion—helping add some humanity to B2B marketing. Email is the perfect place to start!
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