Advocacy groups want out of Gmail’s ‘promotions’ ghetto

August 14, 2013

Gmail shook up users' e-mail recently, moving "social" and "promotion" e-mails out of the primary inbox and into their own tabs. You may remember this awkwardly gendered video explaining it:

The promotions tab has some digital activists up in arms because it lumps together advocacy e-mails with commercial marketing requests and essentially exiles them to an inbox ghetto. Sure, the promotions tab isn't quite the junk mail folder. But it's natural to assume e-mails sent there will get less attention than those routed to the primary inbox.

In fact, you don't even have to assume. A preliminary study from e-mail marketer MailChimp saw a measurable downtick in the open rates of e-mails sent to gmail users immediately after it was rolled out to a wider audience.

MailChimp open rates before and after Gmail implemented a tabbed inbox (MailChimp)
MailChimp compares open rates for three weeks before and after Gmail implemented a tabbed inbox (MailChimp)

Digital strategy nonprofit the New Organizing Institute (NOI) recently sent out an e-mail comparing the tab's devastation to the Death Star:

Now some of you might love this new organization of your inbox, that's great! But many important advocacy emails (like this one from your friends here at NOI), could get lost in the commotion of all these new tabs -- silencing our voices like those of the poor souls on the planet Alderaan.

The message went on to suggest ways to stop their messages from being stuck in the promotions tab purgatory, like removing the tabs altogether, or dragging e-mails from their group to the primary inbox.

Of course, digital advocacy groups aren't the only ones trying desperately to get out of the the promotions tab. Clothes retailer The Gap also recently sent a plea to Gmail users to move their newsletter into the coveted primary tab.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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