US photo book service Shutterfly accidentally sent an email congratulating the reader on becoming a new parent – to what appears to be their entire database. Men, women and children of all ages received the email, prompting a range of responses from humour to outrage.

This message could be incredibly insensitive and cause a lot of pain to families who can’t have children or have experienced loss. To others it’s simply an annoyance and junk mail. Whichever way you look at it, it’s definitely Bad Marketing.

Shutterfly apologised promptly, and as you can see from their email in the image below, they had planned a good campaign, as their apology letter stated how they meant to segment their database.

Shutterfly apology email | Digital & Social | Bad Marketing

What might have happened?

Marketing automation tools – including email marketing and CRM systems – have revolutionised marketing , but perhaps the software itself was at fault. Not directly – but by encouraging us to take our eyes off the ball of campaign execution.

Sign off is one of the most frustrating parts of the job for any marketer, particularly when working with manual, paper processes (and a lot of stakeholders!) but this shows how important it is. Focus is usually drawn to the creative; the copy, design and content of your campaign elements. Could it be that this is where sign off stopped at Shutterfly?

Shutterfly intended to segment their database – the copy was clearly meant for new parents. Their swift apology email the following day stated that the email was “for new parents who had recently made a baby-related purchase”. At campaign execution (i.e. clicking send), the ‘To:’ address books might not have been checked so thoroughly, or even part of the sign off process.

What does good look like?

The person responsible for building and executing the campaign may benefit from an execution checklist; that has detailed the segments of the database the email is for. Based on this example, it is vitally important that this checklist gets signed off too, alongside the copy and artwork.

Perhaps this could go one step further, by setting up the campaign to the point of execution and have this signed off by a third party too. Perhaps a screenshot of the confirmation screen of the email software (detailing the groups your email will be sent to) can be included for sign off.

Moving forward

What’s the moral of this Bad Marketing story for you? What should Shutterfly have done differently? What will you do differently in your own work? Was their response adequate?

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