Levain opt-out email for father's day

Sensitive Holiday Opt-Out Emails: Respectful Outreach or Coercive Ploy?

Holidays can be difficult–especially Mother’s and Father’s Days. Family is complicated at best, and many people associate pain and loss with parenthood. So, I have been pleased to see an increasing number of companies offering the option to opt out of emails promoting potentially triggering holidays. But the new business trend walks a fine line with customers. Are opt-out emails an act of kindness? Are they respectful of customers or just another coercive marketing ploy?

First, A Little History

In 2019, a flower delivery company in the UK, Bloom and Wild, noticed they were receiving increased requests from customers to unsubscribe just for the weeks before Mother’s Day.  They decided to give their customers an option to opt out of communication specific to the holiday.

“This opt-out policy received a lot of press and was even mentioned in a debate in the UK Parliament about bereavement counseling. MP Matt Warman, who lost both his parents, praised the policy,” Emma Bainbridge reported.

Bloom and Wild was so pleased with the positive response from their customers, that they decided to take it one step further. They initiated the “Thoughtful Marketing Movement,” which “aims to change the culture around brand communications and improve the experience for customers across the industry,” according to their website.

Like So Many Things, It Depends.

I figured that when I started looking into this topic, a range of opinions would surface. And that was exactly what I found.

Fast forward four years: the trend has gone global. But as the movement grows, it attracts more attention and more media. Perceptions and opinions vary, as well as companies’ intentions. So back to my question. Are opt-out emails an act of kindness or a manipulative ploy? Like so many things, I think it just depends.

Opt-Out Emails: Two Sides of the Same Coin

So, what are the two sides? Here’s what I came across:

Respectful Outreach

1. Demonstrates sensitivity and empathy to customers.

Acknowledging that a person may be facing a challenging situation or painful time in life can give a sense of “being seen.” As I discuss in my post, The Importance of Being Seen, it can give people a sense of existence and belonging­–basic human needs.

2. Provides a choice for customers.

Human emotions and reactions surrounding the same event can be wildly different due to the innate individuality of people. Modern marketing is savvy, and the language used can be extremely persuasive or triggering. Offering an opportunity to opt-out gives customers an increased sense of control.

3. Supports the business trend of increased consideration of customers’ needs.

“This is a step in the right direction as it encourages companies to have some empathy for those who are experiencing loss. It is not about politics but about people looking out for each other,” explains Priyanjali Narayan.

Coercive Marketing Ploy

1. Upsets some people more than original marketing.

Some people view the option as supportive and empathetic. But others are offended because they don’t want to be “coddled.” Some are even triggered because it is a reminder that their personal situation is more difficult than others’.

2. Feels phony and manipulative.

Marketing language is powerful. It can be convincing and inspiring. But it can also feel slimy and artificial. I looked at many companies’ opt-out emails, and If found that choosing the right words is essential. Even I was put off when one company started their email, “We’re here for you.” Oh, please… (eyes rolling).

3. Covers some people’s needs but leaves out others. Where does it end?

“The problem lies when the company starts singling out particular topics to appease tiny segments of its consumers without offering opportunities to opt out of other niche topics,” attorney Kelvin Chew .

(Note: I am not trying to find solutions here, but perhaps companies need to include a more extensive list of options to choose from on their websites. If it’s important to customers, they would have a choice.)

Intention is Key with Opt-Out Emails

As you can see, it seems complicated. But from my perspective, it’s not. As the Dalai Lama so eloquently says:

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

I think the key here is intention. Whether you’re an individual or a company, if your intention is kindness and compassion for others, how can that be wrong? It is our responsibility as citizens of one world to consider others’ well-being and how our language and actions can affect others.

We won’t always get it right and you can never please everyone, but if our hearts are truly in the right place, then at least we can sleep well.


  • Alex says:

    If you opt out of holiday specific emails does it opt you out of emails sent the rest of the year? If not, I bet that holiday specific opt outs are a way for companies to keep subscriber retention for the rest of the year (considering they would otherwise see “total” opt out rates drop before these holidays) as seen in the bloom and wild case. That is clearly using “empathy” and “compassion” to their advantage. However, I will say, you can be kind while having your best interests in mind. Maybe it’s a win-win?

    • Patricia Makatsaria says:

      The way the opt-out emails are supposed to work is that it only stops the marketing targeted for that specific holiday. And, yes, many companies have found that those customers who were given a choice had greater brand loyalty overall. I think it can definitely be a win-win! Thanks for your input!

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