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Meg · 11 min read · Tips and resources · July 17, 2020

Oops! How to apologize for an email marketing mistake

All of us know that feeling right before you press ‘send’. You take a deep breath and with one simple click, your email is sent. There's no turning back.

We are all human, and humans sometimes make mistakes. From time to time, an email is sent out with an error. While panic is the first natural reaction, it’s important to keep perspective. Mistakes happen 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 more serious incidents, such as referring to the Boston Marathon bombings. 

No one is immune to making mistakes.

In this article, we’ll share some common email mistakes with real examples and show you how to respond immediately with an appropriate apology or explanation.

Email mistakes could be anything from an overlooked typo, bad personalization, 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 seven common email marketing errors that you’ll want to look out for. 

1. Spelling and grammar errors

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 backwards. Your brain will notice more mistakes as it sees words individually.

2. Messed-up personalization  

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’! 

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!

3. Missing attachments

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. 

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. Your audience will be disappointed if they never get the chance to take you up on your offer.

4. Random photos

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

Take a look at this email in 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. 

5. Wrong email list

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 client 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.

6. Poorly-timed emails

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.’ 

7. Unintentionally offensive messaging

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 and make it right. 

Apologizing or explaining what happened is never easy, but here, we have identified 6 techniques that will help you get back on track.

1. Personalize your apology

Your audience is already annoyed. If they receive an apology email from a no-reply inbox or an impersonal message with no mention of their name, it could be the last straw. Instead, personalize your email so that each individual 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 address their customers by 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. 

2. 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. Instead, own up, and explain clearly what happened. After their badly-worded subject line, Adidas sent the following apology:

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. 

3. 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. 

4. 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.

5. Consider using humor - IF APPROPRIATE!

Humor in apology emails should be approached with caution. If Adidas or Airbnb had used humor after those email marketing mistakes, they would be regarded as cold and insensitive. 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, 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. Take it from us. 

6. 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 an email newsletter.

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.

Remember, don’t panic! Writing an email apology can be daunting, but by using these six 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 in their shoes? 

  • 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!

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

Meg Bouton

I’m Meg, Content Writer at MailerLite. I was named after Megan Follows, the lead actress in ‘Anne of Green Gables’ (which tells the story of a budding writer). As fate would have it, I’m now following in her footsteps. When I’m not writing, you can find me sailing, skiing, or trawling through Parisian bookshops.