I founded Welly, a line of insulated bamboo drinkware, in 2015 out of grief and loss. When my mom passed away in 2012 from liver cancer, I was determined to continue her legacy of social responsibility, health-consciousness and sustainability.
Last week, we made a big mistake, and fell prey to the type of snafu I myself would have seethed at, as a customer. Let me explain:
Father’s Day is around the corner, and brands like mine are targeting the hell out of potential customers. “Dad” and “Father” is painfully peppering the inboxes of hundreds of thousands of people who have no one to call ‘Dad.'
Like many brands, we sent out an ad to already existing customers with a reminder to buy Welly Bottles for Father’s Day. Thinking that many fathers were unable to be with their children this year because of COVID-19, we started the message by asking “Missing Dad this Father’s Day?” Facepalm.
The responses started rolling in:
- My dad is dead!!!
- I find this text horrible- I lost my father & your asking if I miss him is unconscionable!
- My father is dead thanks for reminding me!😢
I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of messages like this. So, how could we be so tone deaf? So insensitive? I’ve asked myself this many times since last week.
For those of us who have experienced familial loss, we know what it feels like to be part of the Worst Club in the World. While everyone’s experience is unique, I’ve found that certain days on the calendar that were once celebrated, like birthdays and holidays, are now tinged with bitterness and pain.
While the birth of our daughter Elle -- she was named after my mom, Ellen -- was one of the happiest days of my life, it was also one of the saddest. The realization that my mom would never meet my daughter hit me like a ton of bricks. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t feel the dark absence of my mom’s glowing presence.
But there is no worse day than Mother’s Day. The reminders of this dreaded day seem to start half a year before the day itself. “Mom,” a word that will always be an emotional trigger, is suddenly everywhere: in my already overflowing Gmail inbox, targeted ads all over my social media, commercials on whatever podcast I’m listening to at the time.
Don’t get me started on the Zale’s Jewelry commercials.
It’s not too late to buy gifts for mom!
How are you celebrating mom this year?
Mom deserves the best this Mother’s Day
By the time the annual holiday arrives, I want to tell the whole world to kindly ‘F’ right off, because my mom is dead.
Something that’s helped me make sense of our mistake has been the conversations I’ve had with customers. What started out as a spate of emotional, and angry texts, maybe sent without even realizing that a person on the other end would in fact read them, led to beautiful exchanges of stories about lost loved ones and connection over being in the ‘same club’.
Here is what we ended up sending to customers who I, however unintentionally, hurt:
I so apologize for our message and insensitivity. Having lost my Mom when I was 22, I always struggle with birthdays, events and holidays - especially Mother's day. This was a horrible oversight that I made. As a small gesture, I’d like to send you a free bottle to enjoy. If interested, please let me know your bottle preference and shipping address. Best, Ben
While it’s unbearable to think about the pain caused from sending this ad, I feel grateful to our customers for reminding me of an invaluable life lesson that I learned from my mom, which is that human connection is based on vulnerability, openness and sharing.
As a tribute, this Father’s Day we will donate an additional $10 for every purchase made to charity: water in memory of your lost loved one.
When you place an order, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following:
-Name of the person you are remembering
It’s all too easy to suffer silently from the pain of our loss. It’s harder to share with others and to remember that we’re not alone in this club. As Father’s Day approaches, I hope that you find space to connect, and share stories with loved ones … or heck, even total strangers.
Founder and CEO, Welly