Tag Archives: Oops

A Look Back at 2019: The Year in Email

Happy New Year
It’s that time again! Our annual looks back at email shenanigans. The things that worked and the things that didn’t. We look at the clever, the ill-advised and the sloppy. For our first example, we have one that is both clever and ill-conceived.

Please Read my … Email

As a rule, we don’t like to talk trash about the competition. We all make mistakes, and let he who is without sin, et cetera. Still, just to prove no one is above making mistakes, not even email marketing software providers (ESPs), here’s an example that turned up in our inbox earlier last year:

Clever pre-headerLook at the text above the blue banner. This has to be the most literal interpretation of the term “preheader text” you can get. At first glance, it might seem like it was intended as a placeholder, or maybe a novice worker was asked to “put the preheader text” at the top of the newsletter so they literally did. What they were trying to do here was a little too clever for its own good. By itself, the “Do’s and Don’ts of” subject line makes no sense, but if you receive the email in a client such as Gmail, which also displays the first text in an email, the message reads: “Do’s and Don’ts of…the preheader text.” If you click on the masthead it takes you to this:

preheadersIt’s an interesting idea, but unless it’s viewed under exactly the right conditions, the concept falls apart.

This Crazy, Upside-down World

upside-down imageThis also may have been intentional, but, like the previous example, there is nothing in the copy to indicate it. The fact that it advertises footwear by the avant-garde fashion designer Bernhard Willhelm might have something to do with it. but from here, it looks like they simply forgot to look at the email before sending it.

A Browser is not an iPhone

iphone example 1One simple way of checking the responsiveness of an email in a browser is to reduce the horizontal size of the browser window and see if the content re-positions itself for the smaller window. While this quick-and-dirty techniques works a lot of time, it can also fail. Witness the case of this mailing from FuncheapSF, a newsletter that lists free or cheap events in the Bay Area. If you check this by resizing your browser window, everything will look fine, but suddenly everything is out of whack on an iPhone.

Getting the dimensions right can be tricky and should be tested before sending. B&H Photo is usually pretty good about this, but here’s one that slipped by them:

iphone example 2If you check this one in a browser, it functions as it should. The problem is between the media query and the max-width. You’ll only encounter it if you look at the email on an actual iPhone, or an email rendering service that can duplicate the iPhone environment accurately. Checking it on an actual phone is safer.

E for Effort

Microsoft HalloweenThis past Halloween, Microsoft came up with a fun little email that offers a scratch-off panel that lets you use your mouse or finger to reveal a free offer. While it doesn’t work in all email clients, it offers a fall-back that will take you to a website where you can experience it outside of the email environment. Except Firefox, which takes you here:
Hallooween no formatThe funny thing is, when we opened the same email in other browsers, it did let us try out the scratch-off feature, but told us we didn’t win anything. At least the Firefox mistake gives us a discount.

Hurry, They’re Going Up Fast!

OverpricedWhoever put together this email for the sports apparel and footwear store Under Armour wasn’t paying close attention. Normally the strikethrough price would be higher than the one you’re now offering (shown in red). Does anyone ever want to pay more for something that’s advertised at a lower price?

Self-Responding Email

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, emails with the same subject line and content are threaded in Gmail, so that if you and a friend are sending emails back and forth on a specific subject, these messages don’t completely takeover your inbox list. It’s a nice feature and it rarely has anything to do with email marketing since each new mailing is, as a rule, unique. A marketer might resend a message because the links were screwed up (although you don’t have to do this with Symphonie), but even then, they would normally change the subject line to let you know why they are sending you the message again. Here’s a case in point:

OopsThe content of these two emails is the same. Only the subject line and preheader have been changed, with the former subject line now appearing as the preheader.

But that’s not what’s happening with the Illyusa emails. The subject lines, and the content for these two emails is identical, and all the links seem to work in both emails. Perhaps they forgot they’d sent the message and sent it again. Or perhaps their email marketing software handles the email addresses in each segment as separate entries (a bad practice—see List Segmentation Landmines for more on this). Whatever the case, we ended up with a threaded promotional mailing.

A more extreme version of sending the same thing twice came from Forever 21, who actually pasted the same content into an email twice:

Redundant copyThis could be something as simple as a person trying to paste finished content into their email marketing software and accidentally hitting the paste button twice. On the spectrum of email mistakes, this is minor.

Email as a Predictor of Business Honesty

fake email

At first we were confused when we opened this email. We usually read email with the images turned off at first to see how people are handling alt tags. Some email readers will put in default messages about missing images; others, such as Thunderbird, display nothing unless there’s an alt tag. Even so, if all of the images are missing, there’s usually the required fine print at the bottom to give you some idea of what you’re looking at, but not with this particular email. When we opened it, it was completely blank. After assigning it as spam, We checked out the message source and found the content consisted of two image with href links. The top image would have been acceptable, but turning the physical address and the unsub link into a graphic is always taboo. A closer examination of the email revealed that it was phony from top to bottom. A good rule of thumb: If the unsubscribe link is an image, mark it as spam.

We get a lot of spam, but our favorite junk mail of the year came from this knucklehead:

bad phishingIt sounds so self assured. Putting aside, for the moment, the bad grammar, the fact that we don’t have a webcam attached to our computers, and that claiming an email came from our own account is not a good threat to try on someone who works in the email marketing industry, this scam is the king daddy of scam failures, Worried that spam filters would identify this for what it is, the scammer converted the entire message to a base64 encoded image! This means that even if you did want to give this bozo your money, there’s no way to copy and paste the bitcoin address per the instructions. All you’ll do is drag around the image.

Beanie and Switch

Beanie boobooStraight to Hell, a company specializing in hipster clothing, sent out an email advertising their new line of beanies. Most of this email was done well, with pictures of each beanie, and each image link going to that particular beanie. The only problem image was the first one, shown here. Which, when clicked, takes you to a page about their leather jackets, the subject of their previous mailing. Whenever an email has lots of links, and you’re working off an existing email there’s always a danger of this. Check every link!

This gets back to a topic we’ve discussed in the past and will, undoubtedly discuss in the future. If you’re going to show a product, make sure the link on that item takes you to the page containing that item. Too often, we click on links to pictures of products, only to discover that the product is buried five pages deep in the display listings, but this next example is even more insidious than that:

Bait and switch Putting aside the fact that boots are not accessories, and ignoring the mysterious “si” that appears between the images at the bottom, clicking on the boots takes you to Forever 21’s sale section. After scrolling through all 15 pages, we never did find these boots. Oh well, they probably wouldn’t fit anyway.

The Curse of the Template

empty linkTemplates are a great way to get an email designed with a minimum of work. The only problem is that it’s also easier to miss things such as links. That’s what we suspect happened with this email from Screen-o-matic. Most of their social links work, until you get to the Instagram icon, which contains no link.

While we’re on the subject, We received an email the last week of 2019 using this social bar:

no google plusSee any problems? Google shut down Google+ a year ago. Clicking on this link will get you the Google page explaining that the service no longer exists. Do all the social icons in your mailings work? Are you sure?

The other problem with templates is the danger of overlooking placeholders:

template issueWhoever put this together should have noticed the empty content box at the bottom of their mailing, or, at the very least, got  a second pair of eyes to look at it.

Problems of the Past

Target problemThe other problem with previously-constructed emails is that if you never checked them thoroughly across all browsers and email clients, you might have issues that pop up again and again. Here is a problem that Target has had for at least a year now. In most email viewers, this email looks fine, but in Microsoft Windows’ Mail program, you get the rather confounding problem shown above. The image on the right looks fine, but the image on the left has the words “The picture can’t be displayed” appearing across the top. It seems like a strange thing to say, given that the image is actually there. Fortunately, the buttons that appear on the images make it a lot easier to trace the problem. In this case, it turns out that the folks at Target have inserted the image on the left as a background to a table cell, rather than simply place the image in the cell as was done on the right. An empty image placeholder sits inside the cell, for some reason. Since that image can’t be displayed, it results in the message over the background image. Considering that the audience for this particular type of email is the general public—the very people that are likely to use the Windows Mail program—and that the problem has existed for over a year, someone should have noticed it in the Target marketing department by now.

I Talk Real Good!

Really Good Emails is a website that offers a selection of recent emails that they think are particularly outstanding. It’s a good place to visit if you are looking for creative inspiration. Normally, their emails are well done, but this one came in a couple months ago that reads as if it was written by someone for whom English is a second—or maybe, third—language.
bad grammarRGE responded a couple days later with an apology that also serves as an enticement to explore their site further.
Really Good EmailWell done.

Color Theory 101

back color choicesConsidering the importance of good color use in every other aspect of marketing, it’s surprising how lackadaisically many marketers treat color in their mailings. The number one mistake comes from marketers who don’t bother to think about how their mailings will appear when people haven’t turned on the images. In the image above, the links are virtually impossible to read. This could have easily been remedy with a color:White (or color:#ffffff) style added to the alt text (for more on this, see The Finer Points of Styled Alt Tags).

While the absence of linked text color formatting is the number cause of unreadable text in emails, sometimes, the problem comes down to bad design:

gold on pinkGold and pink are great colors for suggesting a certain pampered luxuriousness, but they don’t always go well together.

Oops…Just Kidding!

Petco deceptionPetco isn’t exactly a fly-by-night organization, so I’m surprised to see that whoever is in charge of their email marketing thinks it’s okay to use techniques that are normally the providence of spammers. Neither of the emails with “Oops” in the subject line is an apology. They are simply promotional mailings. The email marked ‘CONFIRMED” is just an attempt to get you to use their dog grooming services. The fact that it’s all caps only furthers the suspicion that Petco’s email marketing manager comes from the world of spammers.

Click Here to See This Picture, Again!

Vinegar SyndromeIf you’re going to add a link to an image, the best thing to do is to add a link that takes you to the page that the image references. Vinegar Syndrome did add a link, but it’s a link to the image in the email. Clicking on it just shows you the image by itself. I’m sure this one is a mistake. Remember to check your links. Fortunately, Vinegar Syndrome has provided other links in this mailing.

Dear Me

Missing names are a common mistake. They’re usually the result of using a mail merge command that requires content in the first name field. The problem is easy to avoid by using dynamic content instead. That way, if the first name field is empty, you can finish the salutation with something meaningful (e.g., “Dear Reader,” Dear Subscriber,” etc.). They also lose points for the white type in the footer on a pale pink background.

Blackboard Bold or Spam Folder Bait?

Blackboard BoldYou may have received an email or two that appears to feature a unique font in the subject line and wondered “How’d they do that?” The answer is, the same way they use emojis in a subject line: by using alternative Unicode characters. Buried in Unicode are a few special characters that are virtually identical the standard alphabet except for their appearance. The most popular ones are those called the mathematical double-struck characters, sometimes referred to as “𝕓𝕝𝕒𝕔𝕜𝕓𝕠𝕒𝕣𝕕 𝕓𝕠𝕝𝕕.” There is also 𝕱𝖗𝖆𝖐𝖙𝖚𝖗 𝕭𝖔𝖑𝖉, ⓑⓤⓑⓑⓛⓔ ⓣⓔⓧⓣ, 𝒸𝓊𝓇𝓈𝒾𝓋ℯ, and many others. As fun as these things are to play with, we can’t recommend using them. They are often used by spammers to try and get their messages across without tripping the keyword searches, so there’s a higher chance that your email will end up in the junk folder with these characters. If you don’t believe it, take a look at your junk folder.

That’s it for this year. Do you have any examples of email marketing fails that you’d like to share with us? If so, let us know in the Reply box below.

The Year in Email

Happy New Year
Here we are again. Another year has come and gone. As always, there was no shortage of email flubs this years and we’ve collected a few of our favorites. Interestingly, we saw fewer of the “Dear [customer name]” errors that used to plague email marketing. Either people have finally made sure that their name fields contain information, or they’re starting to use dynamic content more. Either way, it’s nice to see that one go away. We’ll start the list with the one thing that doesn’t appear to be going away: the inactive unsubscribe link and CAN-SPAM violations.

Don’t You Dare Unsubscribe

unsub failAfter receiving ten unsolicited emails in just a few days from a company pretending to be Dawgs—a purveyor of ugly sandals—I tried to unsubscribe. This is what I got. How much of this is the sender’s fault and how much is the fault of their ESP, I can’t say, but needless to say, all of their emails went straight to the spam folder.

Unsubscribe? Never heard of it!

no unsub
How do I count all the things wrong with this email? From the needless word breaks to the disconnect between the offer (car rentals) and the company offering the deal (North Hills Clothing), this email cries “spam” at every level. How it ended up in my inbox is beyond me. I never would have clicked on the unsubscribe link on such a suspicious email, but this one doesn’t even have an unsub link!

See, We’ve Got an Unsub Link. I Think…

inactive link
East Midlands Trains does a good job of providing their physical address, and it looks like they’ve provided an unsubscribe link, but click on that link and nothing happens. A look at the email’s source code show where the problem lies:

<a href=”<%unsubscribe_link_text%>” target=”_blank” style=”text-decoration:underline; color:#333333;”>How to unsubscribe.</a>

There should be an actual URL listed in this href. Somewhere along the line, the unsub link got screwed up. Whether this was the email’s creator typing it in and accidentally using the wrong number of percentage signs, or HTML that was copied verbatim from a different ESP is hard to say.

Click Here. Go ahead. I dare you.

spammerYou can click on that unsubscribe link all day and nothing will happen. This is an odd one. If you look at the email’s source code, you’ll find an unsubscribe link that works and a physical address (Royal Caribbean Cruises), but you won’t find either in the email when it’s opened. There is an unsubscribe, but the one that’s displayed is missing its URL. It’s a sloppy piece of coding that has the body copy closing before the final content. Add to all of this that the email supposedly comes from Amazon but clearly does not. This is either badly designed spam, or phishing or both.

We’re Experts!

white text errorThe above example is the bottom of the page on an email. Yes, that blank white area below the signup button is part of the email. At first it may look like the information required by CAN-SPAM is missing, but it’s there. The problem is that the sender decided to use a dark orange background image and set the overlaying type (the physical address and links) in white. This email looks fine as long as images are turned on, but not everyone turns the images on. When the images are off, you end up with a seemingly empty white space at the bottom of the email. This error is bad enough on its own, but this particular email came from another email marketing service provider. Out of professionally courtesy, I won’t name them, but the “Friendly From” in their sender line refers to them as an “Email Markeitng” (sic) service. As if all this isn’t enough, the mailing is filled with buttons asking readers to “Read More” or “Check It Out!” but none of these buttons are linked.

We Prefer to Call It…

sneaky unsubThis runs dangerously close to violating CAN-SPAM, which specifies that mailings must have a clear unsubscribe link. Here they’re trying to be clever. It didn’t help that clicking on the link went to an unsubscribe page that requires one to enter their email address. Guess which email went into the Spam folder?

Readability is So Last Year

GucciGucci likes to stay fashionable, but sometimes fashionable and readability collide. Pink and gold might be an interesting combination for apparel, but it makes a lousy combination in a text box.

Did You Say &⁠#38 or &⁠#48?

weird codingThis one confuses us. The HTML clearly shows that special characters labeled “&⁠#38” were inserted between each word in this headline. That’s the HTML code for an ampersand, but there’s no reason for for ampersands to appear between each word in the headline. The most likely cause is the code was copy and pasted from one program to another, leading to the insertion of this character for no good reason.

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

bad buttonsIn the grand scheme of things, this is a pretty minor infraction, but it’s if you are going to make a table cell in your email look like a button, it’s better to put the <a> tags around the cell instead of the type. In this example, you’ll only activate the links by clicking directly on the type. Clicking within the boxes has no effect.

We’re a Real Company, Honest!

stock photosWe can’t tell whether or not the way the words “social media” run down the left side of the image is some misbegotten design idea (we think not), but the CanStock watermark on the image is unforgivable. If you plan to use an image, either pay for it, or create your own version (paying for it is usually cheaper). Sending out email like this makes a company look suspiciously like a fly-by-night affair. Marketing Knowledge Cloud isn’t such a company, but you couldn’t tell it from this email.

Even Alt Tags Can Be Wrong

bad code
This one nearly caused my brain to explode. You can see in the text I’ve highlighted in yellow that the HTML codes for the right and left curly quotes are displaying instead of the curly quotes. That might have been okay, except that below it on the right, another article on the same page is displaying curly quotes in the same content. It that weren’t enough, as soon as I choose “display images” the HTML code disappears. A closer examination of the code revealed that this text appears as part of a styled alt tag (for more on stylized alt tags see The Finer Points of Styled Alt Tags). The code for the right curly quote reads: “&amp;#8220;” which will display as “&⁠#8220;” which is the correct code for that curly quote. Either somebody really wanted this to look exactly wrong, or they got confused. The right curly quote on the headline to the Page-Turner article has a value of x201C, which works, but it is hexadecimal code instead of the more common HTML code. If I had to guess, I’d say that the two article were written and formatted by different people and then assembled in the newsletter. One of them knows more about HTML than most people, while the other needs to go back to class.

All Tests Are Not Created Equal

media query errorThis looks pretty bad doesn’t it? The code contains media queries to make sure the content adjusts its size across various devices. The problem is, it’s wrong. This screenshot was taken from an iPhone. The first table is behaving as it should, but then the rest of the email goes all cattywampus. We suspect the person that created this simply tested the responsive results by resizing the window on their browser—a kind of poor man’s test environment. If you do that, this email looks fine, proving that there’s no substitute for the real thing.

I Are An Expert!

Speaking of testing, here’s an email from a company that that specializes in providing testing environments for all the various browsers and phones. Either they missed one, or they decided that the Mail program in Microsoft’s Windows 10 wasn’t worth worrying about. Either way, this isn’t something a company whose raison d’etre is testing email should ever be guilty of (to prevent further embarrassment, we’ve removed the company’s logo).

I Heard You the First Time

Amazon errorAmazon likes to send out notifications about newly available movies and TV shows. We’re not sure what happened here, but suspect that the API call that was suppose to register that the email had been sent wasn’t receiving the proper information and decided to keep sending until it was told to stop.

There’s Always One More Typo

misspelled glassTypos are the bane of every writer’s existence. So what’s worse than a typo in your content? How about a typo on the actual product you’re selling. This glass, offered by Bourbon & Boots, has what should have been a clever quote by Mark Twain, but we’re sure Mr. Clemens knew the difference between “then” and “than.” This error has gone uncorrected for over a year now.

Hey Everybody! We Value Your Privacy!

GDPR goofWhen the GDPR came into effect, lots of businesses scrambled to make sure they were compliant. Sometimes, these efforts were counterproductive to say the least. One of the worst came from Ghostery, who sent out an email explaining the steps they’d taken to ensure GDPR compliance. Too bad the included everyone’s email addresses in the “To” field.

Did I Say Mail Merge Errors Were Gone?

mail merge errorPerhaps I spoke too soon. Just when I thought I’d see a year without mail merge errors, this one landed in my inbox. It’s such an easy error to avoid with the careful use of dynamic content.

Our Next Speaker: Wyatt Earp

dead speakerOne of the more amusing apologies came from b8ta—a tech gadget store than sponsors meet-ups with inventors and start-up founders. We’re not sure how you’d confuse Ben Holt with Ben Einstein, but we guess it could be worse: They could have announced that Albert Einstein was going to appear at the b8ta store instead.

Don’t Do This. Not Ever.

fake oopsApology emails have a higher open rate than other emails, so one can see why a marketer might want to use this to their advantage. But apologies are a serous thing and pretending to apologize for the sake of sales puts you just one step away from being labeled a spammer. Don’t do it.

Okay, that’s it for this year. We hope you enjoyed that. In the end, the lesson to be learned is always the same: Test, test, test.