In this post, I’m going to go through some examples of terrible email marketing in the hopes that this post will show people what not to do, and perhaps it will give some people ideas on how to tweak strategies and come up with some good email campaigns.


I received an email from Tapiture (a site like Pinterest) at 2:21 PM on a Friday that had a subject line of:

 “Come on, we all know you’re not REALLY working right now.‏”  

Unfortunately for them, I was working at the time and only had checked my email as I saw I had a new message and wanted to see if it was a client. So they had essentially interrupted my work with their spammy email message. The subject line even seems to both know that people might be working and it seems to intentionally be aimed at distracting them from their work.

I think perhaps that subject line is for people that are the type of workers who waste time at work by browsing the web, which I guess pretty much everyone does a little bit of unless you work for a company that monitors such things. However, if you were actually trying to get work done and were distracted by this email, as I was, it comes off as really condescending and almost as if this company, Tapiture, is intentionally trying to screw up your work and your livelihood.

Tapiture must have just not thought this email subject line out. They surely knew people would be at work at 2:21 PM on a Friday, but they thought that all of those people were just wasting time and waiting for the weekend. I think a lot of people actually try to clear their workload or desks before they leave on Friday, so that they can start fresh on Monday.

This email reminded me of some other email marketing failures I’ve read about in the past, and today I though I’d share with you some examples of email marketing gone wrong.

Donald Trump

Recently, in April 2016, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had an email gaffe.

In an attempt to get people to signup to be delegates in Washington state, Trump’s campaign sent out emails which read (via Politico):

You can still be elected as a Trump Delegate at your GOP County Convention this Saturday!

If you have submitted a Declaration of Candidacy for Delegate form to your GOP County Chairman by the assigned deadline of 10:00am on April 6th.

That email was sent out on April 8th, two days after the deadline had passed.

It also went to people in Washington, D.C., not Washington state.


I don’t want to get political, but I’m guessing this email mistake didn’t exactly help Trump. Not only is he failing to get delegates, but this poor management goes against the great businessman image he is trying to present to the American people. The email marketing mistake also was picked apart by all the late night hosts, bringing further negative attention to the Trump campaign.


In 2014, Groupon was celebrating their 5 year anniversary by giving away $5,000,000 in Groupon bucks. The promotion was setup so that users would receive an email with a big button to press to see if they won. Really, this seems like a terrific promotion up until this point.

Unfortunately, Groupon set it up so that most people that clicked that button were losers who simply got a plain message that was something like “Sorry, you didn’t score.” This just turned all the goodwill and excitement people were feeling about Groupon when reading that email and clicking the button into absolutely nothing.

Users felt unvalued. Surely Groupon could have given them something? Maybe a percentage off? Or a deal to earn dollars back by spending money? Anything really would have been fine. Instead, they just called us all losers. Thanks Groupon. It also was around this time that I mainly started looking at Living Social. I can’t even remember the last time I was on Groupon. That may just be because Living Social has better deals for the Minneapolis area.


Another example of email marketing gone wrong in 2014 happened when image printing service Shutterfly mass emailed a huge number of their email subscribers congratulating them on their newborns.

Most of the subscribers did not have newborns. They also weren’t happy about those emails. Not only that, but many users took to social media to make jokes at Shutterfly’s expense.

New York Times

The New York Times accidentally emailed people telling them that their subscriptions had expired and giving them a deal to renew. That email was meant to go to just 300 users but instead went to 8 million. At first people thought this was a server breach, but it later turned out to just be the error of an employee. I imagine that at least some of those people emailed really were subscribers that must have been alarmed at first.

What can you learn from these examples of email marketing gone wrong?

1. Double check everything! This includes facts, spelling, recipients, functionality, etc. Send yourself a test email. Make sure you are sending the right email to the right people.

2. If you’re going to get personal, be very careful and don’t go negative!

3. Make everyone feel valued! If you’re running a contest, give the losers something too even if it is 5% off or a small online freebie or something.

Hopefully this post gives you some ideas of how to run your own email marketing campaigns.