More Terrifying Tales From the Email Crypt

Wow! Your response to my last article, “Things That Go Bump in Your In Box” was astounding. Not only did I get a lot of stories of email mayhem and madness, it appears that many of you are craving still more email marketing horror stories.

So without further ado — kick back, relax, and listen to more terrifying tales from the email crypt.

Dan’s Multiple Email Horrors

Dan, a reader, sent a real-life tale of email marketing terror. He received a message (read: was spammed) from a prominent East Coast brokerage firm. The creative was in the form of an analyst report. It appeared to have been sent to the firm’s top clients.

Horror 1: The message had the email addresses of all the recipients in the “To” line — about 29 screens of email addresses. Many were probably loyal customers of the firm. Ouch.

Horror 2: There was no message in the body of the email.

Horror 3: The email had an attachment bearing a name indicating that it was an analyst report.

Horror 4: The attachment was huge… over one megabyte.

Horror 5: Dan couldn’t open the attachment — despite repeated attempts.

The consequences of these transgressions? Severe damage to the brand image of a reputable brokerage firm.

What should the marketer from the brokerage firm have done to avoid this debacle? Homework in the form of thinking through the steps. Basic education in email marketing can save you a world of headaches and woes. I mentioned some resources in my last article, but here’s one more– opt in for information at MarketingSherpa.

Mr. Butts’s Tale of Terror

Al Brendenberg, publisher of lived through this nightmare when publishing an email newsletter, NETResults, using a list server provided by Silverquick. One subscriber, Mr. Butts (many came to feel he was aptly named), decided to start his own newsletter. To build the initial list, he gathered all his contact addresses and added them to an email list server.

One of the addresses he added to his list was Al’s own list server address. Picture two robots striding into the middle of a dusty street in the old West, six-guns strapped to their metallic thighs. The duel is about to begin.

Whenever Al’s list server receives a message it doesn’t understand, it returns a help message with instructions about correct commands for subscribing, unsubscribing, getting help, and so on. So, when Mr. Butts fired up his own list server and blasted out the first issue of his newsletter, Al’s list server responded with its help message. That wouldn’t have been so bad, except for one factor. Unbeknownst to him, Mr. Butts’s list server was configured not as a one-way newsletter but as (you guessed it) an unmoderated discussion list.

The fallout was spectacular.

When Al’s list server’s help message arrived on Mr. Butts’s list server, it broadcast Al’s help message to everyone on the list, including (you guessed it again) Al’s server address, which politely sent back a help message, which was again broadcast out to the whole list — ad infinitum.

People on the list were receiving an avalanche of messages. Panic ensued as baffled list members began sending fruitless unsubscribe requests, which in turn were broadcast to the entire group — including Al’s list server, which dutifully returned its help message, which was then broadcast to everyone. Al still winces recalling the rants and profanities exploding across the Web that day.

In time, cooler and more educated heads prevailed. Mr. Butts had no idea how to halt the melee. But Al realized what was happening and was eager to stem the tide, especially since his email address appeared in the help message and he was being accused of spamming (and worse). With the assistance of Mr. Butts’s Internet service provider (ISP) and Silverquick’s intrepid Gordon Burns, Al was able to subdue the dueling droids. Phew!

The lesson? Once again: Understand your list server settings. Many list server providers make it hard to see the distinction between a one-way newsletter and an unmoderated discussion list. It’s easy to get the two mixed up. When building an email list, carefully consider your policy for adding members — go the permission route. Especially if robots are involved.

The Email Boogey Man Targets Warsaw

The Email Boogey Man gets around. He was recently sighted as far away as Poland. One of my dear readers, let’s call her Jane, submitted this example of an email campaign going completely awry.

Jane’s Warsaw-based company has about 1,000 people registered in the database for its Internet club. These people received a regularly emailed newsletter. One fine day, Jane was horrified to find that the newsletter was sent to each and every member over 90 times!

What happened? Jane learned that some users entered fake email addresses during registration. The database stopped sending email when it hit the false addresses, then restarted — and sent the newsletter again — over 90 times to each address. It sounds like a simple mistake, but the lesson learned may have been in the testing. More accurately, the fact that there was no testing. As always, test, test, and retest. ’Nuff said.

Keep those email horror stories coming. I may use your example in a future ClickZ article — so, drop me an email. Your name and company, of course, will NOT be referenced without your permission.

That’s it from me this week — so long until November 6.

Until then, beware the Email Boogey Man and Happy Halloween!


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