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Marketing Fail: Shutterfly Congratulates me on my Imaginary Baby

This morning I received a most startling email from Shutterfly, an online scrap booking and photo printing site. You see, until receiving this email, I didn’t realize I had a baby! It says I’m a new parent! Wow, so much of my life will change.

Welcome to Shutterfly. 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.


But wait, I don’t have a baby. Shutterfly sent me this email with the subject line “Congratulations on your new arrival,” but why? Does my Shutterfly account look pregnant? Did they do a bad job of correlation statistics? Did they accidentally send to the wrong list? [Update: Looks like they just sent to the wrong list.]

While I was working out this morning I thought of a few reasons why I could have ended up with this email:

  1. The average age of motherhood is 25 in the United States. Maybe this is just a poor guess that at 27 I have had a child recently.
  2. They send these emails to any female they know is married. I have used Shutterfly for many years, and recently used it to create my wedding books.
  3. They bought my sales data and see I’ve purchased a few baby items from stores in the last 2 years (for my friends’ baby showers).

Even if the sales data and demographics lined up like a slot machine jackpot to say “she had baby,” the content would still be inappropriate.

The subject line and the email text definitively say that the recipient has had a child recently. This is a dangerous road to go down with a data guessing game. Did Shutterfly’s email marketing team ever ask what this email says to those who haven’t had a child?

  • This email sends a “your clock is ticking” message to women who have not yet had children.
  • This email is a painful reminder to those who have lost a child through birth or miscarriage.
  • This email ostracizes couples with fertility issues or who choose not to have children.
  • This email makes people who aren’t the target audience write blog posts about bad email marketing and poor data interpretation.

We’ve gone over why this email went wrong.  So let’s explore how this email could have gone right.  I see two ways this mistake could have been averted.

  1. Use more data points to make sure your audience is who you think they are. If you’re not Target or Google,  then assume your data is not rock solid—yet. I hope I’m the only statistical anomaly that received this email.
  2. Write copy to a broader audience so recipients other than your target audience (new mothers) can resonate with it.

Shutterfly shouldn’t assume everyone on the list recently had a child, no matter what the data points say. They should have written copy that can engage recipients outside the target audience of new mothers.

Here’s an example of more inclusive copy that would have saved Shutterfly from me from confusion and writing this blog post:

Subj:  Remembering the Cherished Moments

There’s nothing more amazing than the little, precious children in our lives. Whether we are their adoring mother, fun aunt, doting grandmother, or loving godmother, they bring out the best in us—we find that we love more, have more to give, and more to share. And we’re here to help you share the best of you.

Now it’s time to share these memories with others.  Find a photo book to share the cherished moments with the little one in your life .


Done and done. Now was that so hard, Shutterfly?

Special thanks to Shutterfly for reminding me of the importance of good data in marketing. 

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