For reasons I won’t bore you with, I’ve always hated Mother’s Day. Even though I’ve been a mom myself for more than 10 years now, it’s not a holiday we really celebrate in our household, other than to take my mother-in-law out for dinner. (Though my daughter and a friend of hers who slept over Saturday night did surprise me with a wonderful Mother’s Day breakfast in bed—thanks, girls!)
So given that I consider myself immune to the Mother’s Day hoopla, I figured I’d go through the marketing emails I received tying in to the day and see if any of them would have moved me to make a purchase were my mother still alive.
One of the first Mother’s Day emails I received was from Amazing Clubs. I’d purchased several of its beer club gifts for my husband, which he enjoyed mightily, so it was savvy on the company’s part to send me an email on April 13 reminding me that it offered much more than beer. On the left-hand side of the email it listed all 36 of its “of-the-month” clubs, from barbecue sauce to wine, with desserts, dog treats, lobster, neckties, and peanut butter among the selections in between.
The subject line was pretty compelling: “Free Shipping & 10% Mother’s Day Gifts.” What’s more, the copy emphasized practicality over smarm—“…With Mother’s Day only 3 ½ weeks away, now is the perfect time to save big on her extra special gift (and get it off your to-do list!)…”—which I consider a point in its favor.
But the email was visually unappealing—a handful of not-very-enticing product photos and one of a smiling blonde woman and her smiling brunette daughter.
I expect gifts merchants to put together attractive marketing pieces. If they can’t even put together a crisp, modern-looking, pretty email, I’m going to assume that any present they send on my behalf is going to look equally uninspiring and cheap.
DineWise, which I’d also ordered gifts from in the past , sent me its first Mother’s Day email on April 21. As with Amazing Clubs, the subject line was an attractive offer: “Place Your Mother’s Day Order Now and Save 15%.” And I liked how the copy began: “We are taking Mother’s Day orders now,” as if there’d been a crowd waiting for the virtual doors to open. It subtly created a sense of desirability and immediacy—Ooh, better hurry, before they run out! And the bottom of the message included last-order deadlines “to avoid additional shipping charges,” which came across as very thoughtful.
But also like the Amazing Clubs email, the DineWise message was unattractive. Let’s make that downright ugly.
Even the photos of the meals looked dull and bland, akin to the photography you see on faded, 10-year-old diner menus in Queens. And why not show one impeccable hero photo of a sumptuously styled, beautifully propped meal instead of the stock photo of three generations of blandly smiling blue-eyed females?
VivaTerra opted for the hero-photo treatment in its April 18 email, with the subject line “VivaTerra: Shop our Mother’s Day catalog for over 50 distinctive gifts.” (I’m not a fan of having the merchant’s name in the subject line when it’s already in the from line, but let’s not quibble.)
Above the lovely main photo of flowers in a glass pear set against a rich, serene blue and white background was the headline “Shop our online catalog of over 50 great Mother’s day [sic] gifts—there’s something for every Mom from exotic plants to comfy pajamas to picnicware.” And below the main photo, in case recipients still didn’t get the message that VivaTerra offered more than flowers in glass pears, were three smaller, but equally well styled, product shots, of items ranging from practical (colorful, cleverly designed handled bowls) to quirky (the Moulin Rouge Succulent Shoe, which appeared to be a planter in the shape of a shoe holding a cactus).
If my mum were still alive, I would have clicked through this email. As it was, I clicked through anyway, just out of curiosity (okay, I admit it: to shop for myself). Although clicking each of the three smaller product shots took you directly to that item’s product page, clicking the hero photo led you to a 35-page virtual catalog of delights, in a broad range of product categories and price points. On the last page was a link that read “Still haven’t found the perfect gift? See even more Mother’s Day Gifts [sic]” that directed you to a dedicated Mother’s Day section of the core website.
Having bought from VivaTerra in the past year, I regularly receive its print catalogs, but I don’t recall getting one tied to Mother’s Day. Perhaps the company sent this special email to some or all of its print file instead. If so, I’d love to know how it performed; even if it pulled a lower response than a print mailing, because it cost so much less to produce, VivaTerra might still have ended up with a greater profit. Though I do hope it continues its print catalogs; my daughter and I love to leaf through them together, something we don’t do with virtual catalogs. (Which reminds me: I promised to order her the River Stepping Stones from the most recent catalog. And maybe when I do, I’ll order one of the Succulent Turtles I saw in the virtual catalog for myself—err, I mean, for the living room.)
The most prolific Mother’s Day emailer was, not surprisingly, 1-800-Flowers.com. Its emails were certainly gorgeous: This is one company that knows the importance of a hero photo and that, for gifts merchants, style is substance. The headline of its April 29 email struck me as a bit tone-deaf, though: “Show Mom how much you care & save big.” In other words, "show your mom that you care enough to wait for a great discount"? Granted, when my husband and I exchange gifts we often do boast about which special deals we took advantage of and how much money we saved, but I recognize that most families do not adhere to Woody Allen’s philosophy: “In my family the biggest sin was to buy retail.”
Then again, the following day’s email from 1-800-Flowers carried the headline “Free Shipping/No Service Charge (Mom will be so proud),” so maybe there are more families like Allen’s and mine than I’d suspected. And to tell the truth, last year, when I had to live with my mother-in-law for five long (very long) months while my husband, daughter, and dog were overseas (another story I’ll spare you), I did succumb to one of 1-800-Flowers’ discount Mother’s Day emails, so apparently they do work.
The oddest Mother’s Day email was from Chinese Moods. “New arrivals for Mother’s Day,” read the subject line. Nothing odd about that, you say? It arrived on Mother’s Day itself. This is one of those instances where I don’t think “better late than never” really applies.