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Last update: October 2020

6 mins to read - 2020/10/30

Top 10 Scariest Push Notification Fails of the Season, Ranked

We’ve walked you through the concept of a Notification Fail. We’ve laid down the basic guidelines for avoiding push notification fatigue in app users. Now, right in time for the spookiest night of the year, we are ranking the 10 worst push notification fails. These are the push notification nightmares that haunt developers, and keep them up at night. They’re the mistakes, mistimings, and failures to read the room that make users take to Twitter to name and shame brands. Or, sometimes, to even delete apps.

Starting with #10…

#10 Red Alert: Cat Sighted in Neighborhood

push notification fail or win?
Source: Twitter user @pragmacat

Okay, to be honest, this notification is adorable. If you are a lover of cats, you might like to know that there is a cute one in your vicinity. And if you have a case of the Monday grumpies, this may be a small ray of sunshine into the start of your workweek. But if you’re already getting pinged left and right by other apps, you may be annoyed that this is what Nextdoor considers an “Urgent Alert.”

Or you might just be a dog person.

#9 Poshmark Really, Really, REALLY Hopes You’re Doing OK

push notification fail poshmark
Source: Twitter user @ckivy

This is another one that could be a matter of preference. Some people enjoy a self-affirming message from a brand they’re engaging with. (Although others might not see what the connection is between feel-good platitudes and Poshmark, a fashion retail app.) And although these notifications are delivering only once or twice a day, it still makes for an impressive list of distractions.

Whimsical at best… a waste of time at worst.

#8 Man With a Stick, Still at Large…

When you download a neighborhood watch app, it’s not so you can be pinged every time someone within a 10-mile radius picks up a blunt object. Possibly there was more to this incident than could be squeezed into 40 characters. But it’s still an unnecessary interruption that could snowball into mass panic, which makes it a push notification fail.

#7 ESPN Intern Gives Ups Halfway Through Posting Scores

Hitting “send” before giving your message one final go-over… we’ve all been there. Still, it’s not a good look for your brand to send out half-baked notifications like the above. Luckily, OpenBack’s dynamic notification feature gives app developers the option to edit or even delete unsightly push notification fails like this one.

#6 Apple Uses Push Notification to Market Apple TV+

iOS users decried this notification as “tacky” and “unprincipled.” Although it did spark an interesting debate on where to draw the line in terms of notifications for advertising. Some argued that, if mobile apps can send marketing notifications, then why shouldn’t an operating system? Still, the majority of commenters on Twitter agreed that a private platform should not be shilling its own services to users.

#5 OKCupid Wants You To Do Your Civic Duty

Yes, voting is important. And yes, you should absolutely do your due diligence, which includes researching candidates, watching debates, etc. But I very much don’t want my dating app mansplaining civic duty to me. Dating apps are for telling me there are hot singles in my area, or notifying me when someone swipes right on my profile. (Also, whoever came up with the term “VILF” should be fired on the spot.)

#4 NHS COVID-19 Contact Tracing App Push Notification Fail

We saw quite a few Twitter users from the UK complaining about receiving these push notifications. A lot of this dissatisfaction has to do with overall lack of trust in how the government has been handling the COVID-19 pandemic. One Twitter user called the two notifications sent at once a smokescreen to trick users into thinking they had everything under control. But the main anger seemed to be because users agreed that the app should send notifications according to the “no news is good news” principle.

Sending an alert just to tell users everything’s fine causes needless panic during a time when tensions are already running high…

#3 American Airlines Rubs Salt in the Wound of Canceled Vacation

We’ve all had to make sacrifices this year as we’ve adjusted to living under coronavirus lockdown. Still, we shouldn’t have to put up with brands stepping in to make us feel even worse. This push notification from American Airlines fails at a basic level, and should have been deleted from the SDK when the user’s flights were canceled. Not only is this careless mobile marketing, but it’s a slap in the face to customers trying to abide by travel regulations.

Read more about how flawed push notifications owing to marketers’ lack of consideration for users’ feelings and preferences leads to abysmal click-through rates and app uninstalls: Why Are Push Notifications So Broken? An Analysis

#2 Potus COVID. Don’t Worry About It.

push notification fail trump covid
Source: Twitter user @IamMattBetz

It was the push notification that broke the internet. On Friday, October 2, 2020, Twitter was awash with schadenfreude as people from across the political spectrum shared the news that US President Trump had contracted COVID-19. Most mobile device users have at least one news app downloaded on their phone, and as such had the news broken to them via push notification.

Different apps would have reported this news with different levels of glee… But Fox News’ push notification was sparse to the point of sulkiness. They couldn’t even be bothered to print a complete sentence. Were they grumpy over the unwelcome realization that Trump, their orange god-baby, was mortal after all, and coronavirus an actual threat rather than a Democrat hoax? Perhaps… either way, device users were quick to lampoon Fox News for vaguebooking such an enormous piece of news.

#1 Uber Tells You How to Vote

As the US 2020 Presidential Elections approach, brands are getting antsy. In addition to the candidates for president, California voters are also going to vote on Proposition 22. Essentially, if passed, this proposition would keep app-based drivers (such as, say, Uber drivers) qualifying as independent contractors. If rejected, companies like Uber would have to hire these drivers on as employees. This would be bad for Uber, who would then have to pay holiday pay, sick pay, and unemployment insurance.

Even if Uber didn’t have a clear vested interest in the outcome of Proposition 22, sending a push notification telling users how to vote is a gross overstep of boundaries. As it is, Uber trying to manipulate users into enabling them to continue exploiting their drivers is an ethical nightmare. And users across Twitter rightly responded with anger and disgust. Hands down, our #1 push notification fail of the season.

How about some push notification wins? Cleanse your palate with our 30 Best Push Notification Practices of 2020. And Happy Halloween!

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