Spooky Errors that Murder Email Campaigns


Halloween is just ‘round the corner, so we wanted to show you a few email monsters (ear-splitting scream) that have visited our inboxes. And although Halloween is all in fun, these howling blunders are best avoided altogether – in these cases, it’s always a trick and never a treat.


1. “Ghost” Writers

Remember the original Halloween movie? Part of the scary fun was the suspense of wondering about the identity of the mysterious heavy-breather stalking Jamie Lee Curtis.

Does the identity-mystery strategy work in email marketing? Not on your life.


Who sent these messages? For all the reader knows, they may be from Michael Meyers, escaped from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, now heading toward Haddonfield Illinois … and Jamie Lee.

If you cast yourself in the role of Mysterious Unknown Sender, don’t be surprised if you scare all of your subscribers away.

Even more terrifying, readers may never see your email. ISPs think the word spammer is an online word that means stalker with a hockey mask and a big, big knife. They’ll banish your messages to spam-folder-hell in a heartbeat.

Our advice: When it comes to “From” fields, mystery works against you. Readers want to know what to expect before they click.


2. Mystery Messages

Ah, the subject line. That’s the place for a macabre touch: a mysterious door to be opened; (it will have a rusty hinge that will creak as it opens to reveal . . . O-M-G!)

But be careful. A subject line that reads (no subject) isn’t mysterious; it’s just creepy.


Not even a haunted-houseful of babysitting teenagers would open an email with no subject line.


If you leave squeamish subscribers to wonder about the contents of your email, (while the swinging tail and swiveling eyes of the Kit-Cat clock tick back-and-forth,) they may arrive at all the wrong conclusions.

Our advice: Pay close attention to your subject line. Give it a touch of mystery. But make sure it’s the “wow-I-really-need-to-read-this-now” kind of mysterious, not the “Who-IS-this-Creepazoid?” kind.


3. Creepy Jokes

When you and your friends watch Halloween for the umpteenth time this year, it’ll be fun to make jokes about all the horrible stuff that’s about to happen in the movie (OMG, look out! He’s behind the door.)

But email jokes can have unintended consequences.


A certain email marketer targets people aged 20-30 who love extreme sports. They use “young” language and creative newsletter designs. They sent a newsletter promoting outerwear and rainwear with the line:


Mother Nature hates you. Deal with it.



The problem? The newsletter was sent on the 28th of April, 2011 to customers in the southern US who, just a day earlier, had suffered through deadly tornados. 300 people had been killed.

Our advice: Keep your finger on the pulse. If the context of your campaign suddenly changes, change the campaign. Otherwise you’re in for a disaster. And if you make a mistake, consider sending an apology email, perhaps including your CEO’s signature, to show your customers that you take these things seriously. They will appreciate it.


4. Real-Life Monsters

Scary movies like Halloween help us deal psychologically with life’s real and imagined dangers. And there are many all-too-real dangers, such as cancer and heart disease, and many wonderful organizations work tirelessly to raise our awareness of them. We salute their fine work.

But it’s also true that people don’t want to be made afraid of a problem. They want to know what to do to avoid or solve it. There are some emails people simply don’t want to open.



Or how about the one below? Do you really want to see ticks gnashing their teeth in your inbox?



Our advice: Save the weird stuff for Halloween. Don’t scare away your potential customers or make them flinch at an email that they’ve just opened.


5. Unwanted Guests

Any time you see P.J. Soles in a movie, (in Halloween, she plays Jamie Lee’s not-so-smart gal pal) you know she’s the one who will answer the doorbell and get whacked by the mystery man.

Your email readers are smarter than P.J.’s callow character. They only want to hear from people they know. They open the door to permission-based email marketers only!

Purchasing email lists is one of the riskiest moves an email marketer can make.




In August 2009 the White House (the one in Washington, DC, not the two-story Victorian one in Haddonfield, Illinois) sent out a newsletter encouraging people to buy additional health insurance.

The problem? The newsletter was sent to millions of Americans who never had agreed to receive emails from the White House. Unfortunately, they used a purchased list. Even worse, the message encouraged the readers to forward the newsletter to their contacts. Viral marketing, you’d say? We say unsolicited emails.

Of course, the gaffe made the news, and no wonder. And it became famous as a cautionary tale for email marketers.

Our advice: Don’t ever buy email lists. Never assume a contact wants to receive your emails if they haven’t explicitly agreed. And as for the viral marketing? Try using attractive content people love to share, rather than chain letters.


6. Inappropriate “Gifts”

Private information is private for a reason. As an email marketer, you hold valuable data in trust, including email addresses that your readers have entrusted to you. It is your duty to make sure the information never falls into (cue creepy organ music) the wrong hands.




One Monday morning back in April, fans of the New York Yankees received yet another newsletter with information on how to buy tickets for the next season, along with news from the team members. The message was absolutely fine. What wasn’t fine was the attachment.

Each of the 22-thousand subscribers received a file with the personal details of other ticket holders, including names, addresses, age, phone numbers, bank account details and, of course (eerie piano music) credit card numbers. Yikes!

The result? The data was immediately sold on internet forums and used by cybercriminals, including (heart-thumping dramatic pause) Michael Meyers at Smith’s Grove Sanitarium.

Okay, to be honest, I made up that part about Michael Meyers, but the rest of the horror story actually happened, in a little town called New York City, just this year.

Our advice: Don’t EVER do that!

So go have fun on Halloween – and steer clear of the monsters! If you have other interesting examples, be sure to share them with us in the comment section below.

  • For a long time I haven’t been able to read some email marketing tips and trick and have fun at the same time. Thanks for sharing and changing that.

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  • While this list is good, what it fails to mention is that the most important part of good emails is brevity! Who likes to read long email messages? If the point is not made in 2 sentences, you have wasted an email campaign opportunity for new customers.

  • Thanks for your useful comment! I absolutely agree – and have also already touched upon this on our blog. http://blog.getresponse.com/less-is-more-in-email.html Cheers!