Email Bloopers, 5 funny stories & what to do if it goes wrong

Aug 17, 2021

​Email marketing is great, the chances are if you are reading this you work in the field of email marketing.  As you know things can go wrong and when they do go wrong they can go seriously wrong.

In this article I am going to give you 5 stories I have either done myself, someone else did it at a company I have worked for or another person in the same industry I have spoken to told me about it.

What you need to take away from this article is:

  1. Check your email before sending it to your client/boss
  2. Have an email checking list
  3. Have the email checked over by an independent set of eyes, to make it more serious make them tick boxes, sign and counter sign
  4. Don’t think because you are senior and you used to be an email marketing ninja you still are, you will get skill fade.
  5. If something feels wrong, stop, do not send, deadlines are less important than correct emails


1. Check your email before sending it to your client/boss
Eloqua Broken Email

An Eloqua agency used a developer to do a fix on a button that the client wanted to have the design changed on.  Simple, the program manager sent it to the developer but did not send over the URL for the button presuming that the developer would naturally use the link from the previous button in the email.

The developer picked up the ticket, changed the button, did their design checks in litmus.  Knowing that the email had a flawless design sent it over the developer.

The program manager who had previously checked the email before the last minute change sent a test over to the client and awaited glowing feedback from a happy client.

The client came back to the program manager really angry asking “what the hell is this you pervert, what is wrong with you?”

What had happened is the developer had put in a placeholder for the URL.  The anchor tag on the button pointed to xxx.  When the client clicked through from the button the request was sent to the server, the server then ran a google search on xxx and it pulled up a load those type of websites in the search results.

2. Have an email checking list
Eloqua Broken Email

Clients generally go to email agencies to have them build their emails because they are the experts.  Or so that is what we are led to believe.  The truth is you are more likely to get a graduate that has been recruited to build your emails, because it is a copy-paste job with a bit of dynamic content and some personalization.

When you have a client services director that is a manager and not an expert in email marketing that has risen from the ranks you are walking into a disaster area.

Idiocy is multiplactive.  That is 2 half wits do not create a whole wit.  They create a quarter wit.  It is simple maths.

So a client gets assigned to a grad and they don’t have an email checklist and in fairness they don’t even know what they are looking for.

The email got built, a test sent, the client signed it off.

The graduate had a broken link on the main call to action so the email was pointless.  The client had just read through the email to check the copy.  After all, surely the email builder would not have missed something as important as the link on the call to action.

Broken, the client then gets the reply to emails asking where the link is.  No link is worse than a link pointing in the wrong place.  At least in Eloqua you can change the link after the email has been sent on the fly.

3. Have the email checked over by an independent set of eyes, to make it more serious make them tick boxes, sign and counter sign
Even with an email checking list things can go wrong. This is especially true if you are the only one to QA your own work. An email Eloqua agency I worked at managed to consistently send out an email newsletter that used a lot of dynamic content with the odd mistake here and there. Obviously this is not good enough, especially from an email Eloqua agency. The account manager who was consistently getting their QA wrong, even though it was being signed off by the client clearly was having trouble with their testing. As usual, the following month they got it wrong and once again another broken email went out. Another step was put in place for the email checklist. Another Account Manager had to QA the email and sign it. This time they would end up in the dock as well if something went wrong.
The other account manager flippantly decided they just needed to sign the email checklist because they could not be bothered to do the testing. This was just seen as an annoying new step. Surely all account managers got everything right first time?
The email went out and yet again broken, the client phoned the client services director to ask what happened with the new process that they had put together.

It was the second account manager who ended up in the HR office getting a warning. They had disobeyed protocol and we had all be warned about the implications of simply just signing the form. After that, all emails got properly Q/A’d twice. I would like to tell you that was the end of all mistakes at that Eloqua agency, but read on…….

4. Don’t think because you are senior and you used to be an email marketing ninja you still are, you will get skill fade.
Eloqua Broken Email
A senior developer was having to pick up some email build for a week whilst a junior colleague was away. Back in his day he was an email ninja and knew he could do this with his eyes shut.

He built out the email in very little time, sent himself a test, the links worked, alt tags, personalization, it all worked. What could possibly go wrong?

He had not checked the link tracking box so none of the links were tracked.  This meant that it was not possible to send all contacts to a decision step to root them to another campaign based on if they had clicked or not.  The campaign had been nearly year in development and spanned microsites, different campaigns, emails, forms, etc.

He had to eat some very humble pie, own up to his mistake and they sent out another email to kick start the campaign at a different point.

5. If something feels wrong, stop, do not send, deadlines are less important than correct emails
Eloqua Broken Email

A very large Energy supplier was needing an email sent to their entire customer database which was to invite them to all login to their brand new online portal so they could provide their meter results, get given offers, etc. The previous one was rubbish, didn’t work, had loads of complaints so they decided to rebuild the whole thing. The project had lasted a year, UX, integration, front-end developer, back-end developer teams, everything.

As part of an integrated campaign including radio, TV, newspaper adverts, email, they were going to announce the launch of the new online system, what could possibly go wrong?

The account manager that had been assigned the account had holiday scheduled in the two weeks running up to the launch date.  The account was handed over to another account manager he built the email.  The email got built but placeholders were put in place for personalization and the dynamic content block that would display their electricity or gas account number or for those with both, both.

The place holders looked something like Dear %%first name%% and the dynamic content blocks something like %%placeholder for dynamic content block%%.

It was the end of the day and the account manager covering decided to come back the next day to send finish off the email and go into testing.

The next day he comes in and he can’t find it because the system was about 6 years old and a total mess so he rebuilt it and went through the full testing, using all the email check lists, double sign off, etc.

The other account manager came back from holiday and got handed it all back over.

On the day of the send the email contractor that was working on the energy companies end found the other email five minutes before the point of send in the system and then passed it over to the account manager saying he thought the wrong email had been set up send.

The account manager then panicked and decided to set up the wrong, lost email for send to the entire customer database.

Boom, the email fires and gets sent out.  Yep – the one with the placeholders.

This thing hit the news, the email said something along the lines of:

Dear %%firstname%%,

We have listened to your concerns about your online experience with our client portal so we haave decided to completely revamp it.

%%Placeholder for Dynamic content%%

Etc, etc.

What to do if your email goes wrong

When something goes wrong with the marketing email you just sent, you should send an apology email. It’s your chance to make amends with your contacts and maintain a positive, long-term client relationship.

Email errors can be really quite bad, such as sending an email blast to 60K recipients with:

  • No subject line
  • An incorrect time-sensitive offer
  • A copy of an email that hasn’t been altered or a template
  • The wrong email
  • An email that contains a faulty link

When this happens you risk causing damage to:

  • Your personal brand
  • Business
  • Reputation

It’s important to address the problem, it isn’t going anywhere and the longer your leave it the worse it gets especially in the world of social.

First of all find out what went wrong, you will need to include it in your apology email and update your processes to ensure that this does not happen again.

Secondly you need to assess just how damaging this is.  Think back to the mistakes you read earlier.

Consider categorising your errors into one of the following groups:

  • Minor errors: these aren’t going to damage the business or the client. These are unlikely to receive a reaction, but they should be addressed to decrease nd avoid future occurrences.

  • Embarrassing errors: Technical faults in the email that break it but are easily corrected.
  • Detrimental errors: Mistakes like these can have a detrimental influence on the customer experience, sales, and reputation of a company.
  • Real issues: These flaws may harm a company’s income and image, as well as create long-term harm to its consumers.

After you’ve done the first two stages, write your apologetic email response.

It’s critical to plan out the strategy for producing and delivering an apology, just as it is for any marketing email copy.

  • Own the mistake: It is you that has (think company, not personally) that has made the mistake. Don’t make excuses, beg for mercy.

  • Respect your contact’s feelings: Insincerity may be detected from a billion miles away by customers and prospects. It’s essential that you keep this in mind while setting the tone and tenor of your apology letter. Put yourself in the recipient’s position to comprehend and appreciate their feelings.
  • Display empathy: Tell your clients what you are going to do to fix this so that this mistake doesn’t happen again in the future. Sometimes this is not always required but it can go a long way.  Another tactic is to ask if there is anything else you can do.
  • Beg forgiveness: It’s OK to beg for forgiveness unless it would make the recipient feel uncomfortable. Don’t beat about the bush with self-flagellation messaging. Keep in mind that we are all human, and we all make errors from time to time. When this happens, it’s not only normal, but also expected, to seek for forgiveness.
  • This isn’t personal about you: Don’t beat yourself up. Your boss is going to give you a telling off, deal with it.  In a month’s time you will be laughing about it in the pub.  Again look at the 5 examples I have given you.  Do you think anyone was laughing when they took place?
  • Keep your apology email simple: Make sure it is simple, brief, straightforward and do not waffle.

5 Tips to Keep Your Apology Email Positive


1. Do not use negative words in your subject line

You shouldn’t send emails with subject lines that make recipients want to delete them.  Words like “I’m sorry” and “Please forgive me” should be avoided.  Instead, try framing the subject line of the email in a way that encourages people to open it.

  • Bad subject line: Please accept our sincere apologies
  • Good subject line: Retraction on our earlier email

As I said before, own your error and don’t try to conceal it. Maintain a light subject line to encourage readers to open your email, and own up to any errors in the email text.


2. Do not use extreme adjectives

Extreme words like “truly remorseful” or “terribly ashamed” might backfire.  Instead, position your apologetic email in a positive way by highlighting what you did well and why recipients should be grateful to have this information.

  • Bad phrase: “We are extremely humiliated that we have referred to…”
  • Good phrase: “We’re reaching out to correct an error from our previous email…”


3. Do not use negative terms

Bad words frighten people away.  You don’t want to come across as defensive or making excuses, since this will make your apology seem less genuine and more likely to be rejected.  If possible, substitute a word with a positive connotation for the phrase with a negative connotation.

For example, “mistake” could become “error”.

Negative example: Positive example:
“The problem we have at hand is that the link we shared in our previous email is broken which caused your orders to fail. We’re unable to fix this problem before the end of the week. We’re deeply sorry.” “The situation we have at hand is that the link we sent you in our previous email is broken which means your orders may not have made it through. Our tech team is working on fixing it so you’ll be able to place your orders by the end of the week. Thanks for understanding.”


4. Do not blame anyone

In your apologetic email, you don’t have to point fingers at anybody. Blaming others will simply exacerbate the problem.  Never mention anything that accuses someone or a group of people.

“We lost because our Eloqua agency/intern/etc was not good enough,” that is something no one wants to hear.  You just look pathetic.


5. Be funny!

Use humour to keep your apology email light-hearted.  Even slight sarcasm might work if it’s acceptable, as long as it’s not insulting. This can be accomplished by making a joke about the circumstance or referring to something you both know that is amusing.  People will enjoy hearing from someone who understands what makes them laugh, and humour is one method to relieve any stress your email may generate.


When you should NOT send an apology email

If you make a mistake you do not always need to send out an apology email.  After all, it is email.  People generally do understand and to be honest, a lot of people won’t even notice.  Think about your open rate, how many people actually will have seen or be affected by the error.  Here are some examples of when NOT to send an apology email:

  • Typos: Everyone makes spelling and grammar mistakes now and again, so sending a correction email and further clogging someone’s mailbox isn’t necessary. 

  • Sending the same email twice: If this happens, it’s vital not to make matters worse by sending a third email to say “sorry.” Allow the mistake to go unnoticed and make a mental point to include a simple apologies in the next planned email.
  • Wrong Promo Code: Sometimes you can fix mistakes by amending a back-end platform than by admitting the error to those recipients. Update the backend system with your new promo code and make sure you don’t do it again.
  • Broken Link: With Eloqua you can retroactively change your email link after email send because like all other email platforms it uses a redirect. Simply change it on the back end and no one will notice.


Your apology email

One of the first things that I do with clients on an Eloqua implementation is understand the type of emails that they send out.  Once we have those we can prebuild, TEST and approve apology emails so that if something does go wrong, the procedures and the mechanism is in place to deal with the situation calmly and with speed.

In part two of the “What to do when an email goes wrong” I will share with you a number of examples that I have done with clients.

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