American Apparel, Jonathan Adler & Urban Outfitters – when email opportunity hits back

There can be a fine line between opportunity and insensitivity, especially when it comes to marketing and advertising campaigns.

As you all know, recently Hurricane Sandy devastated the Northeast of the United States. Many brands were commended for demonstrating genuine concern for customers and others; however other brands used Hurricane Sandy as a promotional opportunity to boost sales.

American Apparel was criticised via social media for its badly timed email promoting their “Sandy Sale” which offered free shipping and encouraged recipients to shop at their online store “in case you’re bored at home.”

American Apparel were not the only brand to commit this faux pas, home ware company Jonathan Adler sent out an email campaign asking recipients to ‘Storm Our Site’, offering free shipping with the code ‘Sandy’. Urban Outfitters went all out, with their email featuring a picture of Frankenstein and ‘Frankenstorm’ offering free shipping with the code ‘ALLSOGGY’.

Is this harmless fun or a shameless effort at boosting sales at a particularly devastating time for many? While these brands obviously would mean no offence with their email campaigns, the consequence of using Hurricane Sandy as a PR stunt has no doubt created the perception that the companies are being insensitive as well as oblivious to the devastating affect to many individuals, families and businesses.

To avoid the blunders made by American Apparel, Jonathan Adler and Urban Outfitters make sure you take note of the following advice…

Timing is everything

When dealing with content which is topical, timing really is everything. Your message will not be anywhere near as effective if the content is out of date. Because of this, try to prepare your content in advance by using pre-planned events, shows and holidays.

However, for those unexpected events you should try to react as quickly as possible to keep your emails relevant and current.

Keep it on topic

For email campaigns to be effective they need to be relevant to your target audience. By sending groups news and promotions which are of little or no interest to them you are likely to see a rise in unsubscribes for your email list.

While it is important that your topic is relevant, it doesn’t always have to be directly linked to your business. Using a change in weather to promote services or products is widely practiced, however as previous mentioned, make sure that the change in weather is not as sensitive as a hurricane or a storm.

You don’t even need to theme the entire email around the topic; instead consider using a small section or even a subject like to keep the email topical.

Think outside the box

There will be times when recipients will receive a huge amount of emails around the same topic, which can mean that your message is diluted; Christmas and Valentine’s Day are great examples of this. Be sure to communicate additional value within your emails so that you stand out from the crowd.

You could even think out of the box and research events and holidays which aren’t widely covered by your competitors. For instance around Halloween when recipients are being bombarded by spooky emails, Las Iguanas also celebrate Day of the Dead. This is not only on brand but is also very unique at this time of the year.

Topical content can be a great boost to your email marketing, however remember to keep it relevant, timely and as we have learnt, sensitive to current affairs. A tongue in cheek email may seem edgy to you and your company, however remember to respect events going on around you, and view your email from every possible perspective before hitting send.