Do Deceptive Email Titles Cause Companies to Lose Customers?

In Customer Engagement, Loyalty & CRM, Marketing and Sales by Julia Eisler

Is the use of misleading email titles in messages from companies to their consumers going to cost these companies some of their veteran customers? Last Friday night I was checking my email when I realized over half of the new messages in my inbox seemed to include slightly deceptive advertising. What do I mean? Well, let's just say most of these emails included the word ‘free' or ‘complimentary' in the title, but after opening the message the body explained that one could only receive these "gratuitous" perks if they spent a certain amount of money on the company's products first.

I thought maybe I was confused, so I referred to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Free: not costing or charging anything

Complimentary: given free as a courtesy or favor

Nope, I was right. If something is free (like shipping) I shouldn't need to spend X amount of dollars to receive it. As for complimentary, well that feels even more like it's a gift and like I should not need to spend an additional fee to receive it.

So after reading a fourth email that included a title that felt deceptive I started to get angry. Why did all of these companies feel the need to tell me that I was receiving some sort of perk for free if I really wasn't unless I jumped through their hoops? This fourth email, from Belgian chocolate-maker Godiva Chocolatier, mentioned in its title that I could receive a "complimentary engraved chalice", and as I began to read the email's body it seemed reasonable enough – you would have to attend an event to receive the product. A complimentary gift made sense in this case, a courtesy "thank you" gift for attending their event – but then wait a second. What's that? I would need to spend $30 to receive this complimentary gift?

That's when I decided to take to Twitter. "Hey @GodviaChoc – if you first need to pay $30 it's not complimentary. #misleading" To my surprise, I received a response minutes later asking what I was referring to. I briefly explained the email I received to which they replied that the fee was actually for the event and that once there my entrance would also include "chocolate and beer pairings!" I thanked them for their quick responses, but replied yet again stating that their email title was misleading due to its use of the word ‘complimentary'. Godiva responded apologizing and thanking me for my feedback and that was the end of it.

Now Godiva is by no means the only company that does this. This is not a post meant to attack the company in anyway. In fact, I want to take a moment to applaud Godiva for their prompt customer service. However, this is a post meant to bring into question misleading advertising tactics companies use to get their customers to open their emails and what these tactics do for the relationship between a company and its consumers.

While these emails may not be majorly misleading (click here to see examples of major misleading advertising campaigns), it still feels as though something's not right. No one likes feeling tricked, and it upsets me to think that a company feels this is the only way to get my business. Newsflash: the consumers you're deceptively reaching out to are already your patrons, and you don't need to beguile them into shopping with you again!

Mind you, when I received that email from Godiva I knew instantaneously I didn't necessarily need nor want a chalice. By using the word ‘complimentary' they caught my attention; I did not immediately delete this email as I normally might have. So, in that sense, maybe this is a brilliant marketing tactic. However, based on how deceived I felt when I learned that chalice wasn't completely complimentary, it left me with a bad taste in my mouth when thinking about the company, and transitively an angry tweet directed at them.

As for whether or not these misleading email titles will cause companies to lose customers or gain business that's still to be seen, but based on personal experience while this tactic will not deter me from shopping at some of my favorite stores, it will make me second guess trusting some of these companies blindly.

Do you think that when a company sends out an email to its listserv it should title it whatever is necessary to make sure the consumers actually read the email or that the companies should seek to be more honest in their email marketing?