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Perils of the ‘Cc’

May 15, 2013

If you are reading this, the likelihood is that you are an experienced email marketer and would never consider pasting your entire database into the ‘Bcc’ field in order to send an email campaign. In fact, you are probably thinking that no one serious about email would – so why write about it? You’d be surprised…

It continues to amaze me just how many email campaigns are sent using this technique and often by large and otherwise professional companies. Despite the emergence of easy-to-use self-service email platforms, many companies shun email marketing technology; instead choosing to type their own email address into the ‘To’ field, paste their entire database into the ‘Bcc’ field and press send.

It is an archaic technique, but unlike many techniques that have stood the test of time, using the ‘Bcc’ field has never had a place in email marketing as it is fundamentally a misuse of the “blind carbon copy” feature. It is unprofessional, it gives recipients no indication as to which of their email addresses it has been sent and no opportunity to unsubscribe, and it gives email marketers a bad name. Receiving these emails is frustrating, but the problems with this technique are exacerbated when the ‘culprit’ makes the rather predictable mistake… erroneously pasting their database into the ‘Cc’ field.

At this point the sender is heading for choppy waters as they are now sharing their database with ‘itself’, and consequently:

  • Broadcasting their most valuable asset (client/supplier list) to the world (and potentially their competitors)
  • Breaching data protection laws
  • Breaching client trust
  • Irritating their entire database, this is particularly the case if one person decides to ‘Reply all’. If this happens, prepare for a tidal wave of righteous indignation that will feed on itself for days

So why do people continue to use this technique when navigating the stormy seas of email marketing? After a recent spate of ‘Cc’ gaffes, I decided to conduct a very small, straw poll. I called the people responsible for the last 4 examples I’d received to ask them why (and plead with them to stop).

None of the people with whom I spoke used budget as an excuse. Every campaign was sent to less than a thousand recipients, so to send via a professional email platform would cost peanuts.

In each of the four cases it was actually a lack of awareness. Each of those responsible claimed to be unaware that email marketing platforms were so readily available, so easy-to-use and so competitively priced.

How are these people unaware of the many fantastic and cost-effective email platforms and still responsible for email campaigns? In two cases they were inexperienced (and fairly unenthusiastic) marketers. They worked for small companies and had been given autonomy over their company’s email communications. Management had no interest in email strategy and simply wanted to be ‘doing’ email marketing; they didn’t care about the details.

The above didn’t come as a surprise. However, the other two examples astonished me. In these cases the campaigns had been sent by huge companies and both had an extensive marketing department:

  • The first was an email from a global company asking us to complete a survey, it came with a ‘Cc’ field containing contact details for over 500 companies
  • The second was a large company that had recently been purchased by Thomson Reuters, their email informed us of their integration plans… and of the name of 364 of their preferred suppliers

Both companies employ 1,000s of people and many professional marketers, yet in both cases the campaign had been prepared by a junior executive from the HR or Accounts department. I asked why they hadn’t sought help or advice from the marketing department, both of which had extensive email marketing experience and they both answered – “we can’t, it wasn’t a marketing campaign”!

And after my free consultation and feedback on their campaigns, did I convince any of them to stop using the technique? Or even better, to board the good ship Extravision for their future email marketing needs? Nope. Sensitive to criticism my services were politely declined, no-one likes a know-it-all. I like to think that given time they’ll change their ways and are sure to turn to an email marketing professional for their next campaign, it just won’t be me.

Posted by Alastair Campbell

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