Ludwig Wendzich

Don’t use MailChimp for weddings; they don’t want you to anyway.

The tl;dr: MailChimp only want commercial mail to be sent using their service—or at least will enforce laws that apply to commercial email, on all email you send using their service. This means policies like double opt-in, are enforced on all lists, even those used for personal correspondence and thus, not subject to these laws. Use CampaignMonitor instead.

The Long Story.

I am getting married at the end of the year. I am a designer. I am also an avid fan of keeping our planet around for a while longer. I didn’t want to print invitations, but I still wanted a delightful, high-quality and personalized invitation experience for our guests. I decided the best way to do this was to build an RSVP app, on top of MailChimp’s list API. It was great; I only needed to build the RSVP experience; MailChimp would handle the heaving lifting of creating the invitation (using Email Builder), maintaining and persisting the list and each person’s RSVP status (using the API to update Merge Fields), and sending out RSVPs notifications to me or “I lost my link” emails to our guests (using Mandrill).

I built this all, over a weekend. And sent out the invitations.

The next day, I found out MailChimp’s Compliance team had shut down the ability for my account to send email. I was under review. They felt my permission reminder wasn’t up to scratch—it didn’t clearly remind people when I got their permission to email them, explicitly. I had not. These are wedding invitations. I explained this to the Compliance team, they understood and suggested I find another service.

Hang on, what? I clarified: Yes, despite me using MailChimp for personal correspondence, I must still comply with CAN-SPAM and commercial mail laws to be able to use their service.

I checked with them on Twitter. Same thing. I had a friend reach out to someone who worked there, regrettably, they said the same thing. This was policy.

To be clear; I’m not angry at MailChimp (anymore). This is their policy, it is in their terms, and I did agree to those terms. It just sucks that I discovered this after:

  1. Building this RSVP app on their API
  2. Sending out 100 emails containing links associated with MailChimp Unique IDs that would allow people to RSVP.

Fortunately I had full control over these URLs. It was under my domain, and a route in an app I had built. I just had to export “Unique Email ID” to a Merge Field in MailChimp (write an endpoint), transfer those contacts to CampaignMonitor (another endpoint) and then convert the app I had written to use the CampaignMonitor API. Easy enough.

Sidenote: John Gruber and Jeremy Keith like to talk about how links are important, and why owning your domain, owning you links, is extremely important. This is a great example of that.

But I didn’t want this all to happen again, with CampaignMonitor: so I contacted the CampaignMonitor Compliance team, and this is why I am writing this post.

Despite what Google says when you search “MailChimp Wedding”, you should not use MailChimp to send wedding correspondence. They don’t want you to, unless you are willing to comply with commercial “SPAM” laws. I was not. If you aren’t either; good news. CampaignMonitor’s Compliance team have a different take.

CampaignMonitor recognises the difference between personal correspondence and commercial mail being sent using their service, and they won’t enforce the commercial “SPAM” laws on personal correspondence like “Wedding invites (and Engagement announcements, baby announcements etc)”. I strongly recommend you reach out to their Compliance team before you do, to check this hasn’t changed recently. I do not speak on behalf of CampaignMonitor.

This post exists mainly to point out that I recommend you check if something you want to do falls outside of a company’s Terms, if it is OK for you to do it. Even if they internet says you can.

Some differences between MailChimp and CampaignMonitor.

  1. CampaignMonitor is costing me money. MailChimp’s Free plan covered my needs (even the free version of Mandrill). CampaignMonitor essentially don’t have a Free plan (this might be why they can support this use case.) That’s fine, I don’t mind spending money on useful services.

  2. Mandrill is a pain in the ass to use (at least compared to CampaignMonitor’s Transactional Emails). I could not figure out how to make nice transactional emails with Mandrill, with CampaignMonitor it was so easy! And I got to use their Email Builder for those “Smart Emails” as well!

  3. CampaignMonitor have an asynchronous API. By that, I mean: It appears they push API calls into a queue, and you aren’t guaranteed that a PUT has completed before you initiate a GET, even if you make sure the calls are synchronous. Maybe this is common, but something they don’t do, that MailChimp did, and I honestly expected, was to respond with the updated Entity when you PUT to their API. I could be missing something, but the async API meant that I would update an entity, get only a 200 OK, then have to call a GET on the same entity to get the updated version, except, it wasn’t updated by the time the GET response came back! I’m 100% sure this is my fault though.

  4. For some endpoints, CampaignMonitor will respond with Custom Fields using keys in the format, 'Key', and other times as '[Key]'. Why would you do this? Seriously? So weird. Again, could be me, but that caught me out.

  5. In CampaignMonitor you are literally making API calls to create, update, activate or delete webhooks. I don’t know if this is normal, but man, it was way easier getting a webhook going in MailChimp.

I did most of the conversion from MailChimp to CampaignMonitor on a plane, offline. It reinforced how much I rely on documentation and the internet to do anything, but was a fun exercise, and meant it didn’t end up costing me another whole weekend to switch over.

I love both companies.

I started this journey loving MailChimp (that’s why I chose them!) and not knowing much about CampaignMonitor. Now there are things I love about both, and things that I don’t love so much about both. If MailChimp hadn’t kicked me out, I wouldn’t have learnt how much I liked CampaignMonitor—that might be a good reason to allow web professionals to use your service for personal use, maybe? Your mileage may vary, but it’s important to do your research before choosing something to use.

For wedding invitations though; I’d recommend CampaignMonitor and MailChimp would recommend anyone who isn’t them.