Major Mishaps Remind Us To Check that List Twice

It’s been said time and time again:  “personalized emails and letters garner higher response rates.” But in the recent cases of Office Max and Bank of America, that personal touch crossed the line … big time.

In January, Office Max shocked a gentleman by sending him a mailing addressed as follows:


Yes, you’re reading that correctly, it’s addressed to “Daughter Killed in Car Crash.” According to Gawker, after rightfully registering a complaint with Office Max, the company issued the following apology:

“We are deeply sorry that Mr. Seay and his family received this mailing from us, and we are reaching out to Mr. Seay to convey our sincerest apologies on this unfortunate matter. This mailing is a result of a mailing list rented through a third-party provider. We have reached out to the third-party mailing list provider to research what happened. Based on a preliminary investigation today we believe this to be an inadvertent error; and we are continuing the investigation.”

But not to be outdone, Bank of America recently delivered another whopper to a young woman and her mother with the following credit card offer:


Upon receiving the letter at her address, Lisa’s mom was the unlikely recipient, later delivering the news to her daughter who took up the case with Bank of America. Predictably, Bank of America confirmed that the mishap stemmed from a list rental. The Los Angeles Times reports:

‘“Late in the day, McIntire said, a Golden Key spokeswoman called, apologized, and told her someone had inserted “Is a Slut” into McIntire’s society membership account sometime between 2004 and 2008.

“I have personally spoken with Ms. McIntire tonight and we are researching this issue,” Melissa Leitzell, vice president of communications for Golden Key, told The Times in an email. “This error happened on our end, and not with Bank of America.“’


‘McIntire tweeted later that a Bank of America staffer called her, apologized for the incident and told her that Bank of America flags certain words — but that “slut” wasn’t one of them.’

While personalized marketing materials may garner higher response rates, Bank of America and Office Max surely weren’t hoping for these particular responses.

BtoC, BtoB, PR and communications professionals should all take heed. If you’ve got a rented list, or work from a database to create customized mailings, do yourself a favor and give it a thorough review to be sure it’s clean of these (or any other) types of egregious errors. Choose to handle these things properly, even if it means a little extra time spent on quality control; it’s better than contributing to this growing marketing hall of shame.

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