Darcy Grabenstein: A copywriter’s take on subject lines
"While our subscribers sign up for emails to save money on products/services, keep up with industry trends or simply to be entertained, those of us in the industry usually have ulterior motives when opting in to an email list. I subscribe to hundreds of emails - and to email subscription services like Milled, Mailboxr, Patroneer and The Swizzle - so I can keep swipe files on everything from copy to design to offers and more."
While our subscribers sign up for emails to save money on products/services, keep up with industry trends or simply to be entertained, those of us in the industry usually have ulterior motives when opting in to an email list. I subscribe to hundreds of emails - and to email subscription services like Milled, Mailboxr, Patroneer and The Swizzle - so I can keep swipe files on everything from copy to design to offers and more.
Often, I come across emails with subject lines that are so clever (or so bad) I’ve just got to share them with my colleagues. So sit back and enjoy the show….
A purr-fectly good example of a bad subject line
One of my copywriting mentors would cringe every time he saw “purr-fectly” used in conjunction with any cat-related product. I feel the same way about the use of “Egg” in this 87-character (!) subject line (bold emphasis is mine):
"Eggcellent Easter Savings! Free Ship + Egg-stra 10-15% Off Clubs, Clothes, Shoes & Bags"
The Golf Warehouse email design is not as lame as its subject line.However, the email doesn’t show any product. At the very least, it would have made for an interesting A/B test of offer vs. product.
I’ll give Golf Warehouse credit for creating a colorful, quasi-interactive, Easter-themed offer. It’s easier to carry out a holiday theme if your products tie in to the holiday, such as gift baskets, or if your company name ties in, as in this subject line from Newegg: NewEGG HUNT: Come Crack Our Mystery Egg!
It is possible, however, to use holiday-related terms in your subject line, even if you have no direct tie-in to the specific holiday. This Bealls subject line is one example (bold emphasis mine): Online for An Extra Day of Lowest Prices.... What I like about this subject line is that it uses a different verb (“hop” instead of “shop”) for the call to action. I’ve used a similar tactic in a subject line for an Easter sale reminder email: Hop to it! Sale ends today.
Great minds think alike
I’ll often find emails in my inbox with the same or very similar copy. Whether it’s a case of coincidence or copy(cat)writing, it makes me do a double-take (pun intended). Here are a couple of back-to-school emails promoting backpacks that caught my eye. The first one, from Journeys, had this subject line:
"We’ve Got Your Back."
The design does a good job of showing breadth of product, but I would’ve preferred an inset with a close-up of one backpack so I could see more detail.
The other email, from Jack Spade, had this subject line:
"Got your back."
But that’s where the similarities end. This copy kicks Journeys’ butt, so to speak. It starts with a clever but on-target headline: ONE STRAP, TWO STRAP. The copy is concise, but filled with just enough details to encourage click-through (and aid in purchase decision): hands-free utility, starting at $125, sturdy materials. And the imagery shows the backpack in use.
During seasonal promotions such as back to school (and even more so during the Christmas season), it’s difficult to make your emails stand out with all the inbox clutter. This Sony email has a subject line that, while on the long side at 70 characters, hits the target audience and gives savings specifics:
Big Deals on Campus | Save up to $500 on PCs + exclusive student offers."
Those of us who started in the industry as direct-mail marketers often compare the subject line of the email to the teaser of the envelope. It must be compelling enough for the recipient to want to read more. Otherwise, the both the email and the DM piece end up in the trash.
Darcy Grabenstein is a freelance copywriter and a Digital Account Manager at The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks.