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Virgin a victim of Black Friday. Or were they?


Near the end of Anthill’s first year in business, we made a monumental direct mail stuff-up.

Perhaps giddy with the thrill of sending our very first renewal letter (to the 150 early-adopters who subscribed to Anthill with its launch edition), we made one of the most common mistakes among new DM marketers.

We mixed up our lists.

The result was a letter sent to all subscribers (except the 150 it was intended for) informing them that their subscription was about to expire.

New subscribers, including those yet to receive even their first issue, received this letter. VIPs on our ‘free list’ were also given the hurry-up that it was time to renew.

The phones rang hot with complaints, as did our fax machine.

On Friday, Virgin’s Velocity program made a similar blunder, sending the following note to members well beyond its intended frequent flyers database.

Velocity Gold Membership Offer, Virgin Blue, Direct Mail, Anthill

The email is a free upgrade offer to Velocity Gold (“given you came so close to making it on your own”, whatever that means), accompanied by a detailed description of the perks.

Velocity Apology, Virgin, Anthill

Of course, we’re sure that many of the unintended unfrequent flying recipients would have been thrilled, only to have their hopes dashed later that day when the following correction arrived.

While it would be easy to pass judgement on the marketing folks at Virgin for this DM 101 blunder, you can’t help respect the quick turnaround (by big corporate standards) and Virgin’s trademark cheeky sense of humour.

Should anyone follow the links from the original mis-mailed correspondence, they’ll now be greeted by an apology and an offer.

When handed lemons, this is one organisation that clearly knows how to make lemonade (perhaps with a dash of rum, a sprinkling of mint and a Virgin branded miniature umbrella).

When Anthill made its early DM faux pas, way back in 2004, a surprising thing happened. A significant number of people actually renewed, including many of those VIPs on the free list.

This does make me wonder, as veterans of email direct marketing, could Virgin have known about this possible outcome? To make such a big faux pas on Friday the 13th was, indeed, awfully convenient. Could Virgin be pioneering a new technique?

Perhaps we’ve just witnessed a new dawn in marketing – the strategic marketing mistake.