Goodbye, Scotland… Oops – You’re Still There!

The Scottish referendum for independence presented a great opportunity for quick-thinking email marketers. Online furnishing web site seized the moment, and had two creatives ready to go depending on which way the voting went. Unfortunately, they must have been over-excited at the height of this historical moment, because as the official result confirmed Scottish voters had rejected the opportunity to go it alone, this email was landing in subscribers’ inboxes:


Thirty minutes later, the follow-up arrived:


We can see how subscribers responded by looking at Return Path’s Inbox Insight competitor intelligence solution. Firstly, here are their benchmark stats for the past 30-days:


By comparison, we can see that the response rates to both the initial email and to the apology email were very positive – reflecting well on the relevance of the campaign, and how promptly dealt with the mistake.


We’ve looked at apology emails before (see, and there are some good basic rules to follow that help turn a negative into a positive when something like this happens. This example from Boots, where the initial email still had the “lorem Ipsum” T&C boilerplate, showcases several of them:


Boots moved quickly to address this, and within an hour a correction had been sent out:


This highlights something that we often see when this happens – response rates for the apology email were even better than for the original email! Of course, part of this is because a mistake has now been made highly visible, so subscribers want to know what went wrong. This isn’t a bad thing as positive engagement metrics are viewed positively by the major mailbox providers. This recovery email worked because:

  • It was open about what had happened.
  • It moved quickly to resolve it.
  • It kept its tone fairly light-hearted (“Oops”)

If a mistake has disadvantaged subscribers, then the apology email should also take the opportunity to put them back into the position they would otherwise have enjoyed. For example, if a late broadcast meant a time-specific promotion had already expired, then extend the promotion, or provide the affected subscribers with a special offer just for them. Where an error is more serious (for example, personal information has been matched with the wrong email address), businesses should seek legal guidance first.

One final point is that while email subscribers are generally forgiving, their patience does have limits. Cineworld’s email program has experienced a number of recent mishaps:


Over the past few months, we have seen “Oops, we used the wrong email address!”, “Oops we made a mistake”, “Ooops! Updated Info” and “Oops! Film Times Update” – there is a trend that is starting to develop here, reminiscent of the expression “Once is a mistake, twice a coincidence, three times is a pattern!”

Fortunately, Cineworld subscribers have been largely sanguine about these errors as we can see from the following chart. Like the Boots example, engagement with the apology emails is greater than for the initial emails, with higher read rates and lower deleted rates:


However, the next chart shows that this goodwill is starting wear a little thin. Where the engagement metrics are presented as an indexed ratio of the response that were generated by the first two errors, compared with the most recent two errors, it can be seen that the positive uplift in Read rates for the apology emails is reducing, as is the positive downshift in Deleted rates:


Benjamin Franklin once said, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse!” – that’s good advice for email program owners too. Be open about what has happened, deal with it quickly, compensate for any opportunity cost and keep a sense of perspective while doing so. Get these basics right, and then we can finish up with another quote, this time from Lynn Johnston, the Canadian cartoonist – “An apology is the super glue of life. It can repair just about anything.”

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