In mid-April, customers who had signed up for Parachute’s marketing emails got an unexpected message in their inbox. The bedding and linens retailer had sent a blast to all subscribers asking them if they wanted to opt out of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day marketing materials.
The occasions “can be sensitive times for many of us. So if you’d prefer not to receive emails about these holidays, you can opt out of them here,” the email said, offering a link to a web page. “You’ll still be kept up to date on everything else, and won’t miss a thing.”
The outreach was the first of its kind for Parachute, a California-based company founded in 2014.
“We pride ourselves on being a brand that’s listening to our customers,” Parachute founder and CEO Ariel Kaye said in an interview. In the past, Parachute had received messages from customers who said that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day were triggering and that being inundated with marketing about the holidays didn’t help. “This is a challenging time for anyone who’s lost a mother or father or who has a strained relationship with their parents,” Kaye said. She also acknowledged that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be tough occasions for individuals and couples struggling to conceive. “That’s a big part of it, too.”
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In prior years, Parachute didn’t have the technical capability to offer customized opt-out options. But “in a year where there was such tremendous loss and grief in general, we really prioritized figuring out a way that we could create an opt-out option for our customers,” she said.
Giving customers the opt-out option required switching to a new email service provider that offered more user preferences, Kaye said. “We were happy that we could figure it out.”
Homemade marketplace Etsy sent an email that offered customers a similar opt-out option in March.
“We understand that Mother’s Day can be a difficult time for some. If you’d rather not receive emails from us about Mother’s Day this year, let us know by removing yourself below,” the message said.
An Etsy spokesperson said that “especially within the context of a global pandemic,” the company wanted to let customers avoid reminders of what can be a “painful day for many people.” The company plans to email the same offer for Father’s Day in its core markets: the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Germany, and France.
The emails offering customizable opt-outs represent “marketers finally realizing they can’t do this one-size-fits-all approach,” says Susan Dobscha, a marketing professor at Bentley University in Massachusetts.
What Dobscha dubs “human holidays,” like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Valentine’s Day, are relationship-based—versus the “gift-based” Christmas and Hanukkah—and pose a greater challenge to marketers. They’ve been “chasing aggregate data, without knowing the context of the data,” she says. And the “relationship between child and mother could not be more contextual and unique.”
“Your mother is different from my mother, who’s different from your friend’s mother,” she says.
It’s not a surprise that brands are coming around to this idea now. “In 2020, we found a lot of potholes in marketing that people stepped in,” Dobscha said, referencing missteps related to the racial justice and Black Lives Matter movements and brands that changed their names to remove offensive references to Native Americans. “Going back to a more personalized, context-dependent marketing program is starting to make sense,” she says.
Kaye said that “empathy marketing and thinking about how to be more thoughtful as a brand” will “pay off in terms of people’s loyalty and connection with the brand.”
Some 2,100 accounts opted out of Parachute’s Mother’s Day and Father’s Day emails, which represents “a small percentage of subscribers,” Kaye said. (Etsy declined to disclose how many of its subscribers had opted out.) “It wasn’t about the quantity,” Kaye said. “Even if it had been one person who opted out, it was worth it.”
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