Business

Marketing Gaffe: Shutterfly Welcomes a Bunch of New Babies That Don’t Exist

This email was sent to some Shutterfly customers this morning.
This email was sent to some Shutterfly customers this morning.

Personalized stationery and photography company Shutterfly committed a marketing blunder Wednesday when it sent an email congratulating some users on becoming new parents (and, of course, prompting them to buy stuff). Problem was, many of the email’s recipients were not, in fact, parents.

That inspired some laughter and confusion, for sure, but some women with fertility issues also found it hurtful, Jezebel reports.

The email subject line—“Congratulations on your new arrival”—may have been meant for users who indicated they had welcomed a newborn based on site activity, such as by indicating an interest in purchasing baby cards or other baby-related products on its site.

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Or the company may in fact have had a verified list of new parents that it wished to reach to, but somebody at the keyboard chose the wrong email list when pushing the message out.

Shutterfly hasn’t said how it gaffed, but acknowledged in a statement to the Huffington Post: “Earlier this morning, we unintentionally sent out an e-mail in error to some of our customers. We deeply apologize for this intrusion and any offense this may have caused.”

Boston resident Martin Lieberman was among those who received the email this morning. As somebody who does marketing for a Boston-area retailer—he asked not to name which—he recognized the gaffe quickly. “I laughed pretty hard,” he said, “and wanted to know who the mother was.”

Shutterfly’s is far from the worst gaffe in marketing history, but it illustrates one of two things, Lieberman says.

If the email’s recipients were collected based on the products users clicked on, it shows why targeted email campaigns probably shouldn’t get overly personal. Sending an email to somebody who clicked on a product reminding them they might be interested in it is one thing. Making assumptions about that person’s life situation and deftfully crafting marketing materials based on that info is slightly more creepy, but if a company does it well its customer probably won’t notice. Loudly assuming that anybody who looked at a baby product must have just had a child probably crosses a line.

And if instead somebody at Shutterfly just chose the wrong email list? Well, then the incident illustrates the importance of, uh, choosing the right one.

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