Earlier today one of the leading photo-printing sites, Shutterfly, sent a mass email to (probably) hundreds of people congratulating them on their “new arrival.” The email, like many good e-blasts, was short and sweet, well written and included a call to action. If you can’t read the full message in the image to the right, here it is:
There’s nothing more amazing than bringing a new life into the world. As a new parent you’re going to find more to love, more to give and more to share – we’re here to help you every step of the way.
Now it’s time to send thank you cards. Fine one that matches your birth announcement.
The email was pretty much the opposite of offensive in every way except one: many of the people who received this email had not recently given birth, nor were they expecting. That’s right, this email went to hundreds of people who were not in the market for birth announcements or new baby thank you cards at all.
And, it wasn’t just women who got this email. Many men were also the recipients of this congratulatory email. As you might imagine, since mistaking a pregnancy is in the top five most offensive things you can do regardless of what gender you are, the people of the interwebs were not happy this morning:
— Jordan Dressman (@JordanD_WX) May 14, 2014
— Ryan Lancia (@rlancia92) May 14, 2014
Among the recipients was a coworker of mine who is definitely not pregnant but she has been spending a few hours every day researching certain baby products for a client of ours. Her search history, without a doubt, could lead someone to believe she was expecting.
While it hasn’t been confirmed, my guess would be that Shutterfly was using some kind of system to track customers’ purchase habits and other online habits. This isn’t news – plenty of companies use your purchase history to send you targeted emails, direct mailers and more. Remember when Target alerted the father of a high school girl that she was pregnant based on the mailers they sent? Using a system of analysis and statistics, Target was able to pretty accurately identify women who were expecting based on the things they purchased and in what quantities.
More over, it’s not a secret that many companies use your search history (yes, what you search online) to target you with ads later on. Ever notice that the pair of shoes you spent 15 minutes adding and removing from your shopping cart keeps following you around the internet? That’s not a coincidence.
What these companies are doing isn’t illegal – we at FSC, in fact, employ remarketing tactics in our paid search campaigns – but it can feel intrusive for many people especially when it is something more personal and sensitive. And, as seems to be evidenced with Shutterfly, companies don’t always use the data properly. The data should inform your targeting and messaging but it shouldn’t always control it and it’s important to remember that sometimes data can be wrong.
The problem, of course, is that not everyone who buys large quantities of unscented lotion and vitamins like calcium, zinc and iron – these were some of the indicators used at Target to identify pregnant women – are pregnant. And, not everyone who researches baby products online is expecting either.
To be fair, marketing can be hard work, especially in today’s world of instant gratification and “I want it now” attitude. Targeting is how marketers achieve and deliver on both of those things. No one can blame the companies for a) wanting to deliver you the most customized and tailored options or b) wanting to leverage that instant gratification mentality. The problem isn’t that Shutterfly sent a congratulatory email, or even that they used some kind of targeting system, because, like we said, many companies do, it’s that their targeting was either miscalculated or just plain wrong. And pregnancy is a sensitive subject for anyone.
At the end of the day, this total marketing fail on Shutterfly’s part is an opportunity for businesses – large and small – to learn the importance of properly targeting your messaging and developing a quality control system. If you’re going to send a congratulatory email, of any kind, you better be damn sure that it’s going to a properly vetted audience.