The Most Inspiring Subject Lines

There’s probably no greater fascination among email marketers than subject lines. Creating magic in just a few dozen characters is a mix of art, science and luck.

While straightforward subject lines tend to fare best, I recently shared 100 of my favorite creative subject lines since 2006 to inspire folks to experiment and test. We asked readers to tweet their favorite subject lines from the collection, and keeping track of the nearly 500 tweets revealed some interesting trends.

The subject lines that readers found most inspiring were the ones that involved newsjacking, where marketers leveraged the popularity of a news story, event or cultural phenomena to promote themselves. The most popular subject line overall was “It worked for Obama...” -- which Moosejaw used for a January 2013 email that mimicked the text-heavy emails that the Obama campaign had such great success with.

Three other newsjacking subject lines followed right behind that one in overall popularity: “Crisis at the Olympics,” the subject line for an August, 2008 AbeBooks email sent on day 1 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games; “Rock the Coat,” the subject line for an October, 2008 Bluefly email that rode the coattails of the 2008 election; and “Join the Barack Obama Book Club,” the subject line of a January, 2009 AbeBooks email sent the day before his inauguration that highlighted books and authors Obama had mentioned in interviews.

The second most popular subject line tactic was personalization. Readers loved this subject line from a January, 2011 LinkedIn email: “Chad, 118 of your connections changed jobs in 2010.” While first-name personalization is not novel -- and sometimes not all that effective -- having a second personalized data point is pretty rare, and that one demonstrated a deep knowledge of subscribers’ networks. The highly personalized email also did a fantastic job of following through on the personalized subject line.

Another Moosejaw email – this one from December, 2013 -- was also a crowd favorite and a great example of personalization: “You have $37.90 in Moosejaw Rewards Points Waiting to be Spent.” Saying you have X dollars and cents in rewards is far more motivating than a vague, unspecified amount.

The third most popular subject line tactic was using special characters, a tactic that’s really only been around for a couple of years. While sometimes special characters seem like they’re used just for the visual impact alone without any deeper strategy, there are some great examples of special characters used more thoughtfully.

Readers’ favorite example was “Summer checklist: Sarong Beach Towel…” -- which Vera Bradley used for a July, 2013 email. Without the checkmark character, this subject line just isn’t as punchy or natural.

While those were clearly the favorite tactics, readers also appreciated a good pun and a little humor. In that vein, their two faves were “Tell your boss what you really think,” a subject line for an October, 2006 FTD email about National Bosses’ Day; and “Vhat vould Dracula vear?” a subject line for an October, 2006 RedEnvelope email. The second’s use of irregular, eye-catching spellings to capture Dracula’s trademark diction is one of my personal all-time favorites.

Again, straightforward subject lines tend to perform best, but creativity definitely has its place, depending on your message and your brand image. Have you seen any fantastic subject lines? If so, please share them by commenting.

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2 comments about "The Most Inspiring Subject Lines".
  1. Chad White from Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud , April 25, 2014 at 3:04 p.m.
    Just noticed that the checkmark characters aren't displaying in the Vera Bradley subject line I referenced above. Please use your imagination or click through to the collection.
  2. Kevin Ayoola from Innovation Team , May 2, 2014 at 11:44 p.m.
    Want to disrupt the insurance industry? Founder of the Zebra http://youtu.be/dqX-mkhvkdk http://innovationteamx.com/blog/