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'No soup for you!' Email Marketing Lessons From Seinfeld

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The TV show Seinfeld, which reigned as the most popular sitcom for most of the 1990s, inspired many a workplace water-cooler conversation with its quirky characters and hilarious, often absurd plots. Although the show might not seem the most likely source of practical advice, some of its most memorable moments provide lessons for improving your email marketing.

'Seinfeld, four!'

Jerry, George, and Elaine become frustrated when the maître d' in "The Chinese Restaurant" (Season 2, Episode 6) repeatedly promises a table in "five, ten minutes" but keeps them waiting much longer. After seating customers who appear to have arrived after the trio, he explains, "No, no, they were here before." Finally, Jerry and his two friends lose patience and leave, hungry and dissatisfied. Just after, of course, the maître de calls out, "Seinfeld, four!" to seat them.

Although Seinfeld and gang are not happy with their treatment at his hands, the maître de, by extending favored status to his best customers, is actually engaging in savvy business practice. Segmenting his patrons enables him to customize the restaurant's interactions and relationships with them.

While you shouldn't snub prospects as the maître de did, you should use your knowledge of your customers to segment your list, vary your offers and messages, and construct autoresponse campaigns. More relevant, targeted interactions with your subscribers will result in greater engagement and more conversions.


'Take the pen!'

In "The Pen" (Season 3, Episode 6), Jerry, while visiting his parents in their Florida retirement community, encounters their abrasive neighbor, Jack, who is extremely proud of his pen. "This is an astronaut pen; it writes upside down," he explains. "They use this in space."

When Jerry makes the mistake of expressing interest in the pen, Jack insists that Jerry take it. "Do me a personal favor," he pleads. "Take the pen!" Jerry's acceptance sets the entire retirement community into an uproar. Jack later claims, "He practically begged me for it."

Jack's confusing call-to-action—he urges Jerry to take the pen, but he doesn't really want Jerry to take the pen—creates acrimony and harms relationships. You might be doing the same to your relationships with subscribers if you have poorly conceived calls to action. They should be concise, action-oriented, and specific about your offer and what you want your reader to do. "Get a free consultation now" is clearer and more powerful than "Contact us to see how you can get a free consultation."

'But, I don't want to be a pirate!'

In "The Puffy Shirt" (Season 5, Episode 2), Jerry pretends to hear and understand Kramer's "low-talker" girlfriend, who speaks in a largely unintelligible murmur. As a result, he commits to wearing for his appearance on The Today Show a shirt she designed—a puffy, ruffled pirate-style shirt. Kramer's contention that the pirate trend "is gonna be the new look for the '90s" fails to console him. Jerry's appearance on the show in the shirt embarrasses both him and the designer.

Jerry may be off the hook for this one, as the low-talker was nearly inaudible, but you should actively listen to what your subscribers are telling you by what they don't do as well as by what they do. Are your "silent unsubscribers"—those who stay on your list but never seem to open your emails—waiting for a seasonal offer, forwarding the emails to others, or maybe opening them with images off?

Investigate to determine which subscribers you can "win back" to activity and which you should cleanse from your list.

'I'm out there, Jerry, and I'm loving every minute of it.'

Kramer's doctor recommends he wear looser undergarments in "The Chinese Woman" (Season 6, Episode 4). Kramer eschews jockeys for boxer shorts, but then rejects them. When a frisky Kramer shows up feeling "unfettered," Jerry realizes why. "Don't you see what's going on here? No boxers. No jockeys. The only thing between him and us is a thin layer of gabardine."

By experimenting, Kramer learns what works for him and is a happier man as a result. Likewise, you should implement a "test and learn" culture for your email marketing. Active experimentation with template designs, subject lines, list segmentations, and calls-to-action will work to your benefit—provided you measure and learn from your results.

'No soup for you!'

Arguably the show's most famous line comes from "The Soup Nazi" (Season 7, Episode 6). A soup stand's offerings are so delicious that, according to Jerry, "You can't eat this soup standing up; your knees buckle." But there's a catch. As Jerry explains to Elaine, "the guy who runs the place is a little temperamental, especially about the ordering procedure." When Elaine muffs her order (as does George in another episode; see clip below), the owner bans her from the soup for one year, yelling, "No soup for you!"

Similarly, your email marketing program can suffer if you fail to follow established practices around email formulation and list maintenance. Break the rules of Internet or email service providers, and you risk a poor sender reputation that could even get you banned from subscriber inboxes. You should, therefore...

  • Establish a graceful onboarding program that establishes a relationship with new subscribers.
  • Use double opt-in to confirm that your new subscribers' want to receive your emails.
  • Construct your templates such that they present well in mobile as well as in desktop environments, with and without images.
  • Set performance targets and use metrics, with the goal of continual improvement.

'Yada, yada, yada...'

After almost a decade of success, the Seinfeld show left the air at the top of its game and still runs in syndication today. Although Jerry and his friends may not serve as great role models, the show does offer some lessons about email marketing that can help you operate at the top of your game as well.

Can you describe other memorable Seinfeld quotes that inspire email marketing lessons? Let us know by commenting below.

(Image courtesy of Bigstock: Success)


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Dave Calibey is the founder of BigThunk, a digital marketing and strategy company that helps its client use websites, email, social media, and local search listings to grow their businesses.

Sky Calibey is an associate at BigThunk, a digital marketing and strategy company that drives business results for its clients via online customer engagement. He will be entering his senior year at the University of Connecticut in the fall of 2012.

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  • by Matt Haskell Tue Aug 14, 2012 via web

    Great post! I actually wrote a "Social Media Marketing lessons learned from Seinfeld" post several months ago http://bit.ly/Jq3vuk for SourceLink. Pretty amazing that we hardly overlapped on references! That's the sign of a quality program with staying power. Keep up the good work!

  • by scottfasser Tue Aug 14, 2012 via web

    Nice post. Much more interestering than the normal 10 steps to email nirvana. Soup for you!

  • by Rishi Tue Aug 14, 2012 via web

    I would also like to add one of my favourite moments: the time when George and Elaine go to get a massage, but George's masseuse turns out to be a man! George is disappointed and conscious throughout the whole massage :) LESSON: Make sure the email's text and Call to Action button takes your user to the corresponding landing page with relevant content... or they will be disappointed that they aren't being shown what's expected. Check out our marketing tips and tricks at http://mdv.to/NmISj3

  • by Michael Howe Tue Aug 14, 2012 via web

    As a Seinfeld fan and a believer in the social commentary Seinfeld elevated in the 90's I believe that the episode where Kramer creates a photo wall of building tenants pictures as a way for everyone to interact was a precursor to Facebook. I have used Seinfeld examples of social value for years and will continue to do so as long as they remain relevant.

  • by Blazey Wed Aug 15, 2012 via web

    Well written...am inspired to write an article using Friends..l'm sure a ton of lessons there just waiting to be picked up.

  • by David Dewhirst Wed Aug 15, 2012 via web

    I am always entertained by George's dad yelling "SERENITY NOW!" When what you're saying doesn't line up with how you say it, things are likely to be humorous, at best...

  • by Monie TenBroeck Wed Aug 15, 2012 via web

    No Dog For You!

    Our doggie daycare place takes a page right out of the Soup Nazi episode.

    After your dog goes through temperament training, you have to watch a 15 minute video on how to be a customer.

    For instance when dropping off/picking up you must announce your dog's name (first and last) and breed in a person-less office over a PA system. Then head to a gate where you meet someone to give/get the dog.
    Here's a typical exchange from my untrained husband:
    Clerk: "Mr. TenBroeck, we have 3 Golden Retrievers named Bailey. You failed to say his last name, so you must go back to the microphone and say his last name too and then I will give you your dog"
    Husband: "But I can see you have the correct dog right there"
    Clerk: "It doesn't matter, the rules are rule; you must say his last name too."

    Compared to our old doggie daycare place where the greeter in the front office recognized our car as we approached and she would rush to get our dog in the back as we came in the door. They took "daycare" to the max - regular photos of him at seasonal parties, a report card of who he played with that day and any other bits of info that let us know they were watching him.

    But in the end we prefer the doggie daycare Nazi because they are serious about treating dogs as dogs (not small humans). Our pet dropped ten pounds within a month (no treats are given out at Nazi day care), he doesn't get into skirmishes with the other dogs, is exhausted when he gets home and I know he is safe because the owners are very strict.

  • by Kalisha Blair Wed Aug 15, 2012 via web

    How about the chocolate babka episode? In the same episode(I think) Jerry eats a black and white cookie and says it's like Farrakhan and David Duke battling it out in his stomach!

    I get so many emails from so many marketers and some of them seem to have multiple competing messages and links to too many different offerings. Marketers should unclutter their emails and decide what the most wanted response is for each of them.

    Decide what action you want the reader to take and make that the focus of the email, instead of putting a bunch of different pitches in one email and letting 'em duke it out to see who comes out on top.

  • by Dave Calibey Wed Aug 15, 2012 via web

    Thanks for the compliments and wonderful comments that extend and add value to the conversation. Matt, loved your post. Michael, fascinating perspective. Blazey, write it, I'll read it for sure. David, I toyed with "Serenity Now!" bit couldn't figure out how to fit it in. Monie, just don't ask for bread when you pick up your dog. Kalisha, love the black and white cookie.

  • by Carina Thu Aug 16, 2012 via web

    Excellent post! Offers much more insight that the regular "how to" posts.

  • by Quinn Fri Aug 17, 2012 via web

    Great tips, though I confess the Seinfeld references did nothing for me as I've never seen a single episode of this late 20th century sitcom. Never seen Friends, either.

  • by Lynn Dalsing Mon Aug 20, 2012 via web

    Hi Dave and Sky, thanks for a great post. Sometimes, it's just good to get a reminder about best practices in a new and different way!

    We included this post in our round up of email news on our blog at http://blog.ividence.com/en/archives/news-note-inbox-august-20-2012

  • by Poornima Mohandas Mon Sep 24, 2012 via web

    Great post. makes for a fun read.
    What about the fat-free, frozen yogurt episode in which elane and kramer sends the yogurt for testing and the lab finds fat in it. The yogurt shop shuts down after rudy guliani announces the yogurt shop sells fat filled yogurt.
    Email marketers should learn from the yogurt shop and no false claims.

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