Or are they starting to put an extra burden on grieving people?

In recent years, there’s been a steady rise in the number of brands offering specific opt-outs to their email subscribers in the run up to significant holidays – Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Christmas tend to be the main three.

There is a deep desire for kindness driving the public recognition that these occasions are painful for grieving and hurting people, but could the empathetic opt-out be undermining its own good intentions?

Read on to find out why, and my two top tips if you provide an email opt-out to your audience.

Why offer an opt-out?

Giving people control and consent over the marketing they receive is always a positive. By providing subscribers with an option to avoid messaging that they don’t want, opt-outs can build trust and show your values.

It sounds sympathetic. And there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it.

However: imagine a national occasion is approaching which is personally difficult for you. You’re managing it in your own way, getting through the days; it’s not always easy but you’re surviving. And then 3 emails from different brands land in your inbox, all along the lines off:

“We understand that this can be an emotional/sensitive time…” 

“We know marketing emails can be painful/upsetting for some people…”

Then it happens again, maybe every other day, for 2 to 3 weeks. Randomly but persistently, another one arrives: “We know this can be a difficult time…”

Adding to the sadmin?

The term ‘sadmin’ is probably instantly familiar to anyone dealing with grief and loss. It’s all the official paperwork, red tape, and organisation tasks that needs to be done after you lose someone.

In the UK, there is a free ‘Tell Us Once’ service that allows bereaved people to report a death to just one government department, which then informs the rest of central and local government. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but what a great idea. Even the name ‘Tell us once’ – fantastically simple. What a relief for those of us trawling though that particular area of sadmin.

But with email newsletters, we have a 1:1 relationship with each brand or business we follow. There is no centralised email hub where you could opt out from say, all Mother’s Day emails, or every piece of Christmas marketing en masse. So, if you have to opt-out from 30 different newsletters individually (or 40, 50… how many are you subscribed to at the moment?) does this extra round of communication start to defeat its own purpose?

I don’t have a clear answer – every grieving person is individual and unique – but this is some of the feedback I received when I asked these questions on my Instagram Stories (shared anonymously but with permission):

  • “I like the idea of receiving the opt-out but have received so many that it makes a really hard day even harder. Bizarrely it’s making me feel like I need to act or reply, instead of just delete those emails. It feels a burden.”
  • “When opt-out emails arrive, I simply ignore them, it’s easier to ignore than to engage with the sympathy message… which causes it to trip you up and spend more time thinking about it.”
  • “When it’s OK you get these ‘this is hard’ emails and that bring with it either grief or guilt at having a ‘good’ day.”
  • “If you’re already facing a journey of loss or sadness, in many ways you’re already to some extent resigned to dealing with reminders. It’s not like you can opt out of physical advertising when you walk around a town, so most of us have the ability to self filter what is and isn’t relevant to us.”

If you send a seasonal opt-out email:

  1. Allow people to opt out with one click

I received an email from a major online supermarket with an opt-out link for Father’s Day – when I clicked through, there were two drop-down menus and they needed my name, email address and postcode. TOO MUCH SADMIN. Didn’t do it.

Some emails will say “hit reply and let us know, and we’ll sort it out for you”. Again, many grieving people are not going to manage this level of demand, small as it may seem.

If you use an email provider that segments your audience, there should be a way to make the one-click opt-out possible. (I’ve used Klaviyo, and been able to add a smart field and segment that automates the whole thing.) It might take a bit of investigating, but I’m pretty sure there’ll be a method for whatever provider you use.

2. Consider the emotional language you use

Personally, I far prefer the opt-out emails that are matter-of-fact in tone, without emotional language.

The approach that lands best for me would be something like this: ‘Prefer not to receive our [insert occasion here] emails? No problem. Click here to opt-out.’

See, you show you understand the situation through your actions: providing the opt-out. If someone truly needs this option, they already know how bad this time can get, deep in their soul. It doesn’t really need to be underlined.

This isn’t a dig at any brand, big or small, that does or doesn’t send opt-out emails.

This is an ongoing conversation, full of nuance, and the sample size I’ve drawn on is small. Maybe seasonal opt-outs are here to stay, and the benefits do outweigh the downsides. Or will it end up feeling easier to simply delete every email that comes through in June with Father or Dad in the subject line?

As emails multiply in our inboxes, it’s worth considering how opt-outs serve people’s needs, and if this changes year on year. Perhaps they can evolve and be even better.

Illustration by Rock Paper Swan