The first stage in the formation of Internet marketing was marked by the development of email distribution. We are all well aware of how overwhelming an inbox can be, with loads of emails that offer a range of products, ranging from miraculous cosmetics to legal services, or even “natural male enhancement”, or messages from Nigerian princes. In many cases, these emails are marketing fails, especially if they don’t follow the core principle of Internet marketing: personalization.

Since the infancy of Internet marketing, a lot has changed. The development of browsers and search engines have allowed marketers to get more complete information about the interests of users, identify their needs, and determine their degree of readiness to make a purchase.

In short, email marketing is the process of using emails in order to develop relationships with potential clients. There can be many different purposes for such an appeal — from the offer to buy goods, to the invitation to attend the presentation of a new collection or the anniversary of the company. No matter the reason, in each of these cases we can see examples of email marketing fails.

Legendary marketing fails of recent years

Any idea can sound great in a conference room, but when an idea is implemented, it may look quite different. In some cases, the implementation can even be absurd or offensive.

A bad marketing campaign can lead to absolute indignation. Here are four of the worst of email marketing fails we could find that can help you with what not to do.

1. Shutterfly- Delivering a message to the wrong person

This type of failure can lead to a terrible result. Of course, in some cases, there would be no problems, as the clients can just laugh at the company’s ridiculous email, but sometimes this mistake can lead to the loss of a client.

Imagine receiving an email congratulating you on becoming a new parent. Some people may be confused, not understanding what’s going on. However, there are cases when it can really hurt a person, for example, if it comes to a person who has lost a child or cannot become a parent. They may think that it is an evil joke and the company can lose the client forever.

When Shutterfly realized the mistake, they started frantically making apologies, but clearly, this was a marketing fail.


2. Adidas- Boston Marathon email

This famous sportswear company made a terrible mistake while sending the email to Boston Marathon runners. The message said: “Hi, you survived the Boston Marathon”. At a glance, you might think that there’s nothing wrong with it, but taking into consideration the 2013 bombing during this marathon where several people were wounded or killed, anyone can see that this message was wildly inappropriate. The customers were outraged and Adidas received lots of negative feedback.


When the company understood their fail, apology messages were sent out, but the damage was already done. Ads should be always proofread by several people. If someone is not aware or does not realize the problem, there’s often another person who will spot it, avoiding an embarrassing situation.

The problem with this campaign was likely automation: the campaign, complete with the motivational headline, was probably being used by Adidas for many other marathons. What was usually an innocuous message had a different meaning in the context of the Boston Marathon. When a template is re-used, the context should always be taken into account so that mistakes like this don’t happen.

They need that time to finish creating the campaign materials and because they have long review processes that slow down everything. The marketers come up with some great ideas, they tell it to the designers and copywriters, and the designers start working on the email design. Upon review by the marketers, something has to be changed — that means additional time. If the agency clients’ board members don’t like even a small part of the design, all the email have to be re-designed — that takes weeks.

This is why we aim to help expedite this process using a collaborative email template builder. With Chamaileon, creating emails, reviewing them, and making the changes based on review could be done in days or hours thanks to the powerful, yet easy-to-use email template designer.

3. Airbnb- Wrong design at the wrong time

We all understand that ideas shouldn’t be implemented right away, but have we ever thought that this time gap could cause a problem? Airbnb designed a fascinating ad which showed a floating house and invited people to stay above the water. Are there any problems? At the time of inception, no. But this ad was implemented exactly when Hurricane Harvey was destroying Houston, and during that tragic event, people received the email from Airbnb with this phrase.

Campaigns should be read once more, closer to the launch, before becoming a reality. This helps to avoid content that can be offensive and misunderstood in light of current events.


This problem is common among online shopping services and can cause really nasty marketing fails. Have you ever sent an email and left out the attachment you meant to include with it? Almost everyone has done it sometime in their lives. Similarly, developers of email messages are sometimes too busy thinking about the design and content of their ad, and they forget to include the link to the product.

It can be an embarrassing situation because even if the potential customers are interested in the products, they won’t be able to follow the link. This failure can be clearly seen in this email from Shopify, where the developer forgot to place the link into the thoroughly decorated picture.


Tips to avoid email marketing fails

How to avoid misunderstanding

A competent email campaign can generate income that is 40 times more than the investment in it — quite a rate of return! However, it often happens that the next message is slightly different from the others, and the campaign shows a significant drop in performance, leading to serious marketing fail. It’s especially noticeable in the background of previous effective campaigns.

This is a really important question, as every one of us wants to do their duties perfectly, whether it’s a student’s coursework or an important business project. So here’s a piece of information which might help to avoid mistakes regarded in email marketing: make sure the names in your database are, in fact, names, and that they’re in a good format. Also, be sure to check that email tags work properly and that you have a nice default value set.

Often, people filling out a subscription form hurry and enter the name with typos or begin with a small letter or sometimes don’t even pay attention to which fields are which. Then the email-marketer takes the user data and sends a letter with the address by name, thinking that this will increase the loyalty of subscribers or the effectiveness of the mailing. But the result is usually the opposite.

Nobody will be surprised by their name on the mass mailing list. Subscribers understand that this is done automatically through tags and are used to it. Therefore, there will not be the former positive effect on the statistics on mailing lists. And if at the same time the data in the database is not put in order, then the trust of the subscribers will be completely lost.

Before conducting a personalized campaign, run a test to see if the call to the subscriber is affecting the conversion because it could be that this isn’t even a factor for you.

For more effectiveness personalize email marketing

It’s very important for your client to feel important. Let them know that without them, the company would stop existing. Personalization can be shown in different ways. You can put the client’s name in the email or simply send it at the right time, like just after an interaction.

Identify all the main segments of the target audience and decide what data you need in the database to highlight them. Data is better collected at the subscription stage, but even if you have nothing but the email address of the subscriber, you can conduct behavioral segmentation. Why send emails to those who do not open them? It’s better to create a separate segment “Inactive Subscribers” and send them messages less frequently or send a reactivating chain with a reply if the subscriber has not opened a single email.

Perform an analysis based on the purchase history and highlight segments such as “new”, “promising”, “loyal”, “dangling”, “sleeping”, or “SOS segment”. Work with each segment separately. For “loyal”, ask for a review; for “dangling” and “sleeping”, prepare a special offer. Send trigger messages in response to subscriber actions on the site or in the mailing list. If the client shows no activity, push them to the action, while if they’re active, engage even more. The mailings based on the analysis of behavior are much more effective on a large scale.

Think twice about the content

A common mistake — even for experienced marketers — is using irrelevant mailing lists, which don’t contain information about specific interests. Marketers write about the company or product (service) without taking into account the interests of the client, trying to make a cold sale immediately and in every email. The subject becomes the product, not the client. But it doesn’t work anymore! Email marketing gives long-term results.

However, companies persist in sending emails that carry no value to readers. This will definitely lead to people unsubscribing from your emails. You have to agree that often in response to a subscription to the newsletter comes the classic “Oh! Click here, do this and just pay us right now!” The result of such campaigns is predictable: lots of complaints and dismissals by recipients and a waste of time and money for the sending company.

Emails must take into account the interests of subscribers, and this knowledge will help you in solving your own business problems. To create useful content and competently work with the database, you need to study your clients well.

Proofread your text before you hit publish

It’s always best to think a little more about the concept of advertising and double-check all the facts. The best way to avoid mistakes is to take a responsible and thoughtful approach to create content. Regardless of how small your audience is or how innocent the new post is, there is always a reason to double-check the grammar and all the information.

Test your email before you hit publish

Being perceived as spam is usually a result of emails that were poorly tested or not tested at all. There are lots of rules for creating an email that can increase perception. For example, if you make an email with a single solid picture, you’ll lose adaptability (pictures are not optimized for the mobile version). If the subscriber has images disabled, he will not see the content at all. In these cases, there’s a high probability of being blocked by the spam filter of the mail provider.

Therefore, when creating and running a newsletter, you need to be careful. Before starting the main mailing, it’s better to send it through a test database. This way, you can check the substitution of tags in the message. In the test database of addresses, it’s a good idea to include emails addresses from various providers. And don’t forget to include the internal skeptic and qualitatively evaluate what you did.