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Man Bites Giraffe II: A Return Visit With Email Subject Lines From Real Companies

by Josh Nason  |  
June 9, 2009

A year after writing "Man Bites Giraffe: Some Awful (and Awesome) Email Subject Lines," yours truly is back with another look at subject lines and some suggestions you can use, based on emails I've recently received.

Here's a quick refresher about why subject lines are important: Like the headline of a newspaper article or the teasers you see on a magazine cover, subject lines are designed to pull you in and get you to take some desired course of action.

A subject line is a door that invites others into your email-marketing open house. If you have something to sell or a message you want to get across, that subject line better be good—or else your prospects might head to a different neighborhood.

And the Golden Rule hasn't changed: Tell what's inside, don't sell what's inside.

From: Hawk Mail
Subject: Hasselbeck to Houshmandzadeh

An email from the Seattle Seahawks, with a subject line intended to fuel fan interest in their new quarterback-to-wide-receiver combo. I like how they inspired the reader to come up with a visual, almost making you hear the crowd as the two players team up for touchdowns. Never underestimate your reader's imagination and being able to inspire a sale because of it.

From: eBay
Subject: jnason, zero bids!

Like kabillions of other people, I have an eBay account and regularly check out and bid on select items I don't really need but want (Lite-Brites or View-Masters, anybody?). However, I'm not a fan of how the company uses email marketing, at least in this fashion. I don't like how informally my username was inserted into the subject line and the cavalier tone of "zero bids!".

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Josh Nason is the inbound marketing manager at Dyn Inc., an infrastructure-as-a-service company that specializes in enterprise DNS and email services. Follow him at @joshnason, @dyninc, and @sendlabs.

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  • by Dillon Tue Jun 9, 2009 via web

    On the one posted

    From: World Wrestling Entertainment
    Subject: Today only: use code CINCO for 15% off and a FREE DVD.

    Wouldn't that be a bad subject line, using the word FREE would pick up the spa/junk filters and or may even "quarantine" the email and the consumer may not even see the email?

  • by Josh Nason Tue Jun 9, 2009 via web

    Hey Dillon - the use of the word 'free' is generally thought of as bad, but I've run across plenty of time when it's not - like here. There are a few other factors you have to take into account like who the sender is, reputation, etc.

    A power sender like WWE can get away with this easier than a smaller business using 'FREE!!!!!' which is never a good idea for obvious reasons.

  • by Blake Wed Jun 10, 2009 via web

    Great advice. I received an email today from MarketingProfs:

    From: MarketingProfs Update
    Subject: Meeting Invite

    In fact, it was not a meeting invite at all but an advertisement for Vocus soliciting me to request a sales demo.

    When considering subject lines, it's important to not just make sure it's intriguing and says something interesting, but also that it doesn't appear to be deceptive. The Vocus advertisement I think crosses that fine line which results in me not only not wanting to do business with them, but potentially has some CAN-SPAM repercussions.

  • by Josh Nason Tue Jun 16, 2009 via web

    Hey Blake - 100% agree. If you're sending on behalf of a 3rd party (and the recepient has said they want to get messages from that 3rd party), it has to be more explicit than the instance you state.

  • by Maureen Mon Jun 29, 2009 via web

    Hi Josh, I agree with you on most of these points however I am still hesitant to agree with using "Free" or even percentages in email subject lines - while it may indeed benefit some companies that are power senders, I still recommend my clients avoid these terms while sending to their permission-based lists as its a definite filter risk - it just looks spammy to me.

    I think the key you touch on here is writing a subject line that is indicative to the body of your newsletter.

    Thanks for the post!


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