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Don’t gaslight people with your email subject lines

As a marketer who is a big fan of email marketing, I can get easily riled when I see people abusing emails as a marketing channel or using email marketing illegally.

One trend I discussed with a client this morning was the rise of predatory email subject lines in the B2B space. I got this lovely email this morning:


Dear new friend of mine,

I never got an emails from you. This trend of sending automated messages with “re:” in the subject-line and then blatantly lying about “researching” my business and previously sending previous “emails” has got to stop.

This is what is called gaslighting, which is a form of emotional abuse. Gaslighting, according to Wikipedia, is  “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, or sanity.”

Implying that there were previous emails and trying to guilt-trip the recipient is coercive and gross.

I shared this email with a completely different client and their clever response was, “might as well say Dear %name% gaslight fakenews vague guilt trip, hire us for your company %company name%, which I know more about than you do. We do a thing we vaguely think you might need.”

We’ve previously written about marketing practices we can’t stand at Exothermic, including list purchasing (which is clearly the case here – why the hell would Exothermic need software outsourcing? it’s obvious my email address was purchased) and retargeting. Welp, here’s a new tactic to add to the list for marketing we don’t love.

I’m sure that this manipulation is very effective and gets plenty of apologetic responses of, “Oh I’m so sorry, I didn’t see your previous emails, let’s chat” based on a knee-jerk reaction.

But seriously, people: stop it. On both sides.

Recipients: Stop feeding the trolls and replying to these emails, even if you’re busy – take a moment and think or do a search through your spam/trash and you’ll see that they’ve never contacted you. They’re taking advantage of the fact that you’re busy and that you have a conscience. This person has clearly never emailed me before and clearly doesn’t have any sort of knowledge about Exothermic.

Also check the bottom of that email. You can tell it’s an automated outreach if you see that disclaimer at the bottom. Automated emails or emails sent en masse in the US are legally required to include opt-out information.

Bonus points, flag the sender for spam. Anytime you mark an email deliverer for spam then their delivery rates may be impacted.

Fellow marketers: STOP. Stop this crap. It’s predatory and it’s one of the many tactics that gives marketers and sales teams a bad rap across many industries.


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