Mother’s Day Opt outs: may have unintended side effects

In the last few years, some brands have started offering temporary opt-outs of certain email campaigns during certain holiday seasons. In particular, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It comes from a kind place – people who have lost their parents or have difficult relationships with them may not want to be bombarded with messaging about purchasing gifts for them them, as it can be very painful.

When brands do this, they’re likely putting these opt-outs on a suppression list for sends that are about these holidays, and continuing to send them other emails. I think that’s fine – it’s showing empathy for subscribers and providing a better customer experience, while still preserving the relationship. All good. And maybe they’re even saving this list year over year, and if they’re really smart, also using it for suppressions for holiday gift guides at other times of the year.

While marketers have some data about their subscribers (in this case, that they don’t want emails about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day), it’s difficult to interpret accurately. Marketers make (or are expected to make) assumptions about their subscriber behavior based on the little data we can easily access: “oh, they didn’t open that email because it was August and were probably on vacation” (yes, I’ve had people say that to me), “oh, we should send this email during lunch time because they’ll have more time to read it, or “oh, they opted out of my Mother’s Day emails – they must not have a mother (or a good relationship with her).

While that is a perfectly reasonable assumption in many cases, and it’s the behavior the brand intended, it doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story: maybe your subscribers just don’t see your product as an appropriate gift for this holiday, and that’s why they opted out. It’s a hard pill to swallow, and no brand wants to believe that there are people who just don’t want their products (or don’t want them for a specific situation). I just got an email from a deodorant brand about a Mother’s Day gift box. Even for a person who likes and uses that product – I can’t think of a scenario where that would go over well as a Mother’s day gift. Same with a popular socks brand. Love the products, would use them – but not as a Mother’s Day gift.

The email above was sent from a brand I bought towels from a few months ago. They’re great towels – very plush and spa-like. I love them. The brand also sells sheets and bathrobes. I may buy the sheets when I need new sheets since I’ve been so happy with the towels. But would I buy any of these products as Mother’s Day gifts? No. So I opted out of emails about them. In this particular case, it was a little strange – clicking on the link just went to a confirmation page. If I had wanted the emails for Father’s Day but not Mother’s Day, I guess I’m just out of luck. Sheets and towels feel kind of intimate for gifts for your parents, and SNL said it best when it comes to bathrobes as mom gifts. And maybe there’s an argument for spouses buying Mother’s Day gifts because the kids are younger, but sheets would be a weird one, because presumably the parents are sleeping in the same bed and would both use that gift.

(Fun little story there: when I was a kid, my siblings and I thought it would be a good idea to get our mom a waffle iron for Mother’s Day. It wasn’t. She was mad. But we had that waffle iron for years, and I eventually inherited it when I moved out on my own. It finally died right around the time that I became a mother. I told my husband about its origins, and as a joke, he got me a waffle iron for my first Mother’s day. Don’t do this, especially if your wife is only 6 weeks post-partum. Unless she specifically asked for a waffle iron.)

Part of this, at least for me, comes from how hard the past year has been for mothers. We’re doing so much, without all of our normal village of helpers available, and many of us are also working full time. It’s hard. We want to be appreciated, and not with deodorant, socks, or towels.

I think a missing piece in the Mother’s Day marketing conversation is considering which mother your subscribers are shopping for: I have FOUR mother figures (mom, stepmom, mother-in-law, stepmother-in-law). I am also a mother of a young child. So my husband is technically on the hook for figuring out Mother’s Day for a lot of people (and factoring in that both of our moms have birthdays a week later – we have a lot to cover in May!). The types of gifts for mother’s day that he would get me are very different from the types we’d get for any of our own mothers (or not, if we’re talking waffle irons). Just like any other email, it’s still important to target your messaging to the right audience. And that can get tricky for something like this, because most brands wouldn’t have the data to know who is in the market for Mother’s Day gifts, and for which mothers in their life. As a mother, I subscribe to a lot of brands whose target audience is -wait for it- mothers. It feels weird for those brands to send Mother’s Day emails, because we’re the ones who would be receiving the gifts. Send these emails to our spouses and children. (Well, not my child. He’s two.)

So, should your brand do a Mother’s Day opt-out?

Sure, if you want! If you’re planning a lot of email campaigns around Mother’s Day, it can be a valuable service to people who have reasons why Mother’s Day content might be upsetting. Just be careful about what you are deducing from this. People who opt out of these campaigns might have other reasons beyond their personal relationships with their mothers. If you’re seeing a large percentage of your subscribers opting out, pay attention to that, and think about if your products are right for this holiday, or if there might be a better way to frame them.

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