The commercial message is becoming a popular medium for dissent, or at least it seems that way in the early days of Donald Trump's presidency. More brands are using email marketing to deliver or amplify their cause and views.
Several companies have turned to email to oppose the executive order on immigration, affirm a pro-immigrant/pro-refugee stand or combine activism and commerce, such as fundraising for causes like the American Civil Liberties Union.
Some brands directly address the political or social developments of the day while others use email to restate their corporate values or send obliquely written statements against discrimination and backing inclusion.
What Worked and Didn’t Work
I chose three to review here out of about a dozen different examples of messages from my own inbox and via several friends in the industry.
1. Country Dogs
Subject line: "Country Dogs' Anti-Discrimination Policy"
Content: This small company, which offers boarding services for dogs in the eastern United States, used humor in a recent email to state its corporate values.
Among its nondiscriminatory factors, the company joked about different types of dogs: "Race: Fast or slow; sprinters or waddlers; long-distance runners or under-tree sitters;" and "Lifestyle Choices: Easy-going, pond-swimming farm dogs; high-strung diva dogs who like going to the groomer; or sloppy, drooling suburban dogs who sleep away their days dreaming of big bones."
Then the email transitioned to a serious message regarding humans. The company included socially charged topics such as religion, gender expression, national origin and sexual orientation in stating its nondiscrimination practices involving employees, vendors and customers.
"We are committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all members of our staff, subcontractors, vendors, clients and their colorful, different, and diversely wonderful dogs!"
I thought the email was well done because it combined humor about dogs to pull their customers into the message, but transitioned into a serious message the owners clearly felt passionate about.
Sender name: John & Logan (Note: Lyft co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green)
Subject line: "Defending Our Values"
Content: Lyft, which competes with Uber in on-demand car services, issued the most overtly anti-ban message of those I studied, a simple message signed by the co-founders.
An excerpt: "We stand firmly against these actions, and will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community."
Also in the email, Lyft announced it was donating $1 million to the ACLU "to defend our constitution."
I liked that this email was sent from the co-founders, had a strong message and wasn’t hollow, because the company backed it up with a large financial contribution. But underneath, it was a shrewd way for the company to continue to differentiate itself from Uber, its chief rival, and position the company as the “nicer, friendlier” car-sharing service.
3. Manufacturer of specialty mobile device cases
Subject line: “Proceeds donated to the ACLU”
One that I didn’t like came from a manufacturer of specialty mobile device cases. It lacked authenticity; its true intent appeared to sell more products.
The top of the message was "Because we feel strongly enough to say something" and featured a specially designed tote bag and “SHOP NOW” button. The company said it would donate all proceeds from the sale to the ACLU.
Following that was a selection of six products listed under the banner of “Library of Products.” While I have no insight into how it came together, the message felt as if it were a compromise between various internal viewpoints: “OK, let’s do it, but throw in some products, and perhaps we’ll generate some additional sales, too.”
Unlike most other messages I reviewed, which were either sent or signed by company executives, the email gave no sense that this fundraising effort was something the company was truly passionate about.
Next column: Tips and best practices
I'll share my suggestions for crafting an effective social message, whether you need it to react to negative attention or get out in front of a developing situation.
Until then, take it up a notch!