I was cleaning out my inbox today, unsubscribing from some email lists I’ve been on for a while, when I came across an email from Groupon.
Now hear this: I am a huge Groupon fan. I have never chosen where to eat without first consulting Groupon, Living Social, and (since I’ve moved to Atlanta) Scout Mob. But my Groupon Goods email was still linked to Charlotte, which doesn’t apply to me anymore, so I figured I’d just unsubscribe.
Little did I know what a treat I was in for.
Punishing Derrick for His Folly
When you hit the tiny button at the bottom of the email to unsubscribe, you come to a screen where you can confirm your desire to leave the mailing list. Once you’ve done that, you get this screen:
What you can’t see from this screenshot is that the picture at the bottom is moving. That’s right — it’s a GIF of a man sitting at his desk. The movement is subtle (it could probably be less so), but it did catch my eye. I gathered pretty quickly that this is the previously referenced Derrick.
But then, when you scroll down, you see something both squee-inducingly exciting and mildly sadistic: a button to punish Derrick for ever thinking you’d want to receive those emails.
What follows when you push the button (because of course you’re going to push the button) is hilarious. First you see someone you assume to be Derrick’s boss come around the corner. He speaks pointedly with Derrick for a few moments, as evidenced by his irritated expression and body language (there’s no sound, of course). He seems to be asking Derrick, “why would you sign this person up for our emails? That’s a jerk move, man.”
Check out what happens in the video below (you’ll have to wait about 15 second for the action to start):
He ends with what seems like some derivative of, “just don’t let it happen again.” Then, as the boss is walking away, Derrick apparently says something heinous, because the boss turns around and throws his coffee on Derrick’s face.
Now, that’s pretty funny in and of itself, but then there’s the closing screen: “That was pretty mean… I hope you’re happy. Want to make it up to Derrick? Resubscribe!”
Why This Tactic Is Effective
Okay, so you’ve probably said by now, “but most people wouldn’t even scroll down to do all of this!” And you’re possibly right. I’d argue that a large number of people would leave that screen so quickly that they wouldn’t even notice Derrick moving. In fact, another large number might see him moving but assume he’s an ad and quick away just as quickly.
But let’s look at the reality of the situation. Someone has just unsubscribed from your email list. Unless it’s an extenuating circumstance like mine (which, let’s be honest, is probably the vast minority of the unsubscribes you see), you have irritated them enough that they are taking action in a negative way, and that’s hard to come back from. If there is something on the screen past where they have actually unsubscribed, it’s a Hail Mary if anything.
And that’s why this works. Because those of us who actually take the time to scroll down likely care enough about that kind of thing to let it affect us.
The guilt trip delivered after a user unsubscribes is not a new concept — it’s the standard when it comes to unsubscribing from email lists, cancelling accounts, and the like. The company at fault knows it’s losing that person altogether, so all bets are off as to the tactics used to keep them around. While canned spam laws prevent them from making it too difficult, they can guilt trip their customers as much as they want.
But there are two main reasons why Groupon’s guilt trip works better than most:
- They make the unsubscribers laugh instead of begging them to stick around, which resonates more. Positive reinforcement is almost always more effective than negative; just ask any parent.
- Punishing Derrick, as silly as it may be, gives the user a small sense of gratification to make up for the annoyance caused by the emails. This levels the playing field and makes them more likely to resubscribe.
Now, while it would be tactless to blatantly copy Groupon, there are ways that you can take these principles and apply them to your own email marketing campaign. With this example in mind, try revamping your unsubscribe page to reflect that.
The principle behind the success is simple: humor and humanity are always going to be more effective than begging is. You probably won’t go from 100 to zero unsubscribes overnight — or ever, for that matter — largely due to the number of people who will never even see your attempts at reaching out. But of those who do, if you keep Derrick in mind, some are likely to appreciate your efforts as I did with Groupon and opt back in.