Fake 'Oops' Emails: Stop It Already

While sending correction or "oops" emails is often the right approach to fix a mistake, some marketers are turning these emails into a cheap tactic to entice recipients into opening their email.

It's understood among email marketers that correction emails generally have higher open rates than regular emails. Recipients act because they're either curious or genuinely interested in determining whether the sender's mistake affects them.

But using "oops" or similar terms just to get a higher open rate is simply deception. The practice is no better than the trickery of those direct marketers who print "Official Business" on their envelopes.

Humans aren't particularly good at long-term thinking, but I ask that you put aside any modest or short-term gains derived by this less than best practice and look at the bigger picture.



I once heard Mike Krukow, the San Francisco Giants broadcaster and former Major League player, repeat a tired old sports maxim on a pre-game radio show: "If you aren't cheating, then you aren't trying."

I cringed at that moment, as I thought about all of the young kids who were just told that cheating is not only OK, but a mandate.

Maybe I'm naive. The steroid era was the pinnacle of cheating in baseball. Sure, steroids led to the most exciting home run chase in the history of the sport, but history is also not being kind to the bodies and reputations of those players who chose to jab syringes regularly into their butts.

Do we want email to be the Willie Mays or the Barry Bonds of marketing?

I take my role seriously as a steward of this industry. So should you, no matter what your day-to-day role is.

Below are a few reasons why using cheating tactics to get people to open emails, like using "oops" in a subject line when there is no mistake, is simply wrong:

Email is rarely just about opens. If you have to trick your subscribers into opening your emails, then you have bigger problems with your email program. Besides clicks and conversions, emails are important branding vehicles. How does lying to your recipients help build your brand and instill trust?

It might be illegal. Deceptive "oops" subject lines might actually be illegal under the US CAN-SPAM Act. According to the DMA's Primary Purpose Fact Sheet: Thus, the Commission's Rule would treat as deceptive, under Section 5, a deceptive subject line used as a means to get the attention of the recipient or encourage the recipient of the message to open it even though the content in the body of the message is truthful. (p. 22)

A fake "oops" today... If a marketing team finds it OK to use trickery in subject lines, what other types of questionable tactics will it deem acceptable in the name of higher open rates or bigger lists?

Effectiveness will soon fade.  In baseball, the initial waves of steroid cheaters had an advantage over their clean brethren. But when pitchers caught up with the hitters, the steroid advantage diminished. In email marketing, subject line cheating will go the same route. As more marketers resort to this lame approach, and consumers get wise and start ignoring these emails (as well as genuine apology emails), the benefit will diminish or disappear.

What happens when you make that real mistake? Believe me, you will. When the day comes that your company has some email-related screw-up, and your boss or even CEO gets involved in the correction/apology process, how will you explain to him or her why such a small percentage of your subscriber base opened such an important email?

I'd especially like to hear from those readers who proudly deploy these trickery methods. Why do you do it? What are the results? Why will you continue an approach that will ultimately bring shame on the industry?

Otherwise, I'd love to hear from folks whether I am making a mountain out of a molehill -- or my sentiments are right on target.

Until next time, take it up - -not down -- a notch.

10 comments about "Fake 'Oops' Emails: Stop It Already".
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  1. Bruce May from Bizperity, December 16, 2010 at 11:35 a.m.

    I'm with Willie Mays all the way!

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 16, 2010 at 11:38 a.m.

    Those who are honest do not have to worry about your advise; those who are not, it does not matter what anyone says. Sad, very sad.

  3. Cynthia Edwards from Razorfish, December 16, 2010 at 11:48 a.m.

    Thanks for the message, Loren. The email industry is already beset and besmirched by horrible spammers. Those of us on the side of the angels must keep that division between legitimate email and spam clear.

  4. Andrew Kordek from Trendline Interactive, December 16, 2010 at 11:51 a.m.


    Great article. I too am seeing an increase in these emails. However, I am seeing legitimate oops emails for things such as spelling errors or wrong phone numbers and I am wonder if that is even appropriate to send. Granted, I can totally understand if there was an error in price or discount or even a code, but something like a spelling error again might not even warrant an email.


  5. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, December 16, 2010 at 11:56 a.m.

    Andrew - great point...and that is exactly one of the topics I'm going to discuss on today's Correction Email Webinar - do you even need to send a correction.

    Bruce - I'm with you - Willie Mays is still my here.

    Cynthia - agreed, trust is so critical.

  6. S T from Non-profit Org, December 16, 2010 at 12:03 p.m.

    I have no respect for anyone who intentionally publishes something wrong. I once did have to send an oops email which got a great response - but that experience was humiliating and embarassing enough that I can't imagine why any marketing pro with real value would stoop to those levels.

    Here's something else to consider though. When I did admit my (real) mistake, the responses I got from customers saying "It's OK", etc helped show a vulnerable, human side to brand - a move away from the otherwise commercialized emails.

  7. Mitch Tarr from ZinMarketing Inc., December 16, 2010 at 12:16 p.m.

    Say Hey Willie Mays. I think that if a legitimate error is made, and it's worth sending an update then an Oops message is appropriate. I think that marketers that use this as a tactic are just lazy. It can only be used once and it doesn't provide any lasting value. One little bump is an open rate is nothing.

  8. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine, December 16, 2010 at 1:10 p.m.

    So glad to see you call BS on this practice! It seems to have been a rather annoying fad about a month ago. Great article.

  9. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, December 16, 2010 at 4:28 p.m.

    Thanks for all the comments. Great to see that so far everyone agrees that the practice is bad. Was kind of hoping someone would step up and publicly admit they do it - and how they justify it. Still waiting...

    Kate - thanks...ya it will probably catch on even more after the holidays, as marketers look to find ways to increase open and CT rates. But I'm hoping most in the industry will stand up and say that this is a practice that is not good for the industry - and individual brands.

  10. Amy Moore from AmysWinningWays, December 17, 2010 at 6:17 a.m.

    I noticed quite a few of these from the small time marketers quite awhile ago. NOW I am getting them from some top companies, particularly in the electronics category. It's getting a bit ridiculous. All these emails do is make me think they need to be hiring new people and I don't even open them anymore.

    The little boy that cried OOPS is getting eaten by the big bad delete button!

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