Mea Culpa Emails: For When You Call Subscribers “Fatties”


Is that email you’re about to send 100% perfect? Are you sure? Of course, you’ve checked off every best practice and made sure your subscriber data is correct, but at the end of the day, you’re only human. Sooner or later, you’re going to miss something.

Case in point:

Subject line: Amber, Is Amber Hammond a Fatty?...

That time PetCareRx called me a “fatty.”


Imagine my surprise to look at my phone and find this subject line in my inbox:

“Amber, Is Amber Hammond a Fatty? Get 15% OFF Weight Control Food!”

Due to my profession, I know exactly what happened — my full name ended up in the place of my dog’s name in their database. I had seen this mistake before from this company in other subject lines, but I just wrote it off as an unfortunate error with my customer profile data. Until this. (Oh, and did I mention I was 10-weeks postpartum from delivering my twins? Yeah…) We now shop for our pet supplies and medicines elsewhere, and I still wonder how many other subscribers (and worse, customers) they lost over this subject line.

Unless you make a truly egregious mistake, like the example, you can use the following three steps to recover with grace and dignity:

1. Assess the situation.
First, you need to determine if a response is necessary. In some instances, sending a correction email could only compound the problem. Evaluate how significant the mistake is, how large the affected audience is, and what the potential consequences of the mistake are.

Is a follow-up imperative?

No — There was a typo regarding non-essential information.
Maybe — There is a broken link or image with incorrect information. Check with your email service provider to learn if they provide the option to successfully change links and images after the fact.
Yes, but only to those affected — The message was sent to the wrong list or segment. In the event your readers are in multiple groups, cross-check the subscribers in the wrong group with the set in the correct group and exclude those who are in both sets.
Yes — The mistake was a crucial part of the message, such as an event date or time, an offer code, contact information, etc.

2. Respond appropriately.

• Follow-up as swiftly as possible to catch those who have not yet noticed your mistake, especially if the issue may lead to a loss of subscribers.
• Clearly own the error and apologize accordingly.
• Use the subject line and preheader area to explain the problem and solution.
• Stay true to your brand, but try to use the word “oops” and humor when possible to diffuse the situation and give the apology a human touch.
• Provide a replacement offer as appropriate to show goodwill.
• Consider using your social channels as an additional follow-up to turn a negative into a positive.

3. Evaluate any damage.
Monitor both the original and the apology messages’ performance and measure the results against the goals you set to determine what negative consequences were experienced. Use the data to learn what works and doesn’t work with your particular audience, decide what improvements need to be made to the process, and determine ways to prevent and minimize future mistakes. Hopefully you’ll never call anyone in your audience a “fatty,” but right now is the ideal time to develop an action plan for the next time any kind of error occurs.

Share in the comments the biggest email mistake that you’ve seen (or — if you’re feeling brave — that you’ve made) so we can all learn from others’ mistakes.

Amber V Hammond is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Tammy Seleski

Thank you for this article! I mistakenly called one of our employer partners by the wrong first name when addressing her via email–I felt horrible after seeing my error! I waited an hour (to calm down) and called her to apologize. She was gracious enough to say that she didn’t notice, but I believe it was to make me feel better. I now put all my emails in print mode to review before sending–it is much easier for me to catch any mistakes now before sending them out!