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10 Emotionally-Provocative Email Subject Lines (and what you should learn from them)

by Karen Talavera

09 30, 2014 | Posted in Creative, Email Marketing, Response Improvement | 0 comments

One of the best ways to engage email subscribers is to connect with them emotionally, although this is often easier said than done.

I have spoken and written many times about the importance of creating emotional resonance – either positive or negative – between your message and your audience. It’s essential because without some sort of feeling connection to you, at least occasionally, subscribers will become bored by the purely practical often repetitive litany of subject lines cropping up in their inboxes (i.e. 20% savings this week!) and easily tune out.

It’s fine to engage your audience intellectually, but if you want your email to create a lasting impact, it needs to pack an emotional punch too!

The subject line is an obvious, immediate and powerful way for email to connect emotionally with subscribers – but how many of us routinely think about writing subject lines from an emotional vs. informative frame of mind? While not all need to be emotional stunners, I thought it would be fun to comb through my email swipe file to showcase examples of subject lines that evoke, provoke, and otherwise succeed in causing a visceral emotional reaction.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at ten email subject lines that pack an emotional punch and explore why: (click on images to view larger)

1. Carnival Cruise Lines
Subject Line: Deleting this email is like deleting $200

This example from Carnival Cruise Lines is a refreshing departure from their standard “$200 cash back” offer and typical promotional fare. It demonstrates empathy on a few levels: first, they’re one step ahead of subscribers by realizing that most email gets deleted without being opened, so they’re attempting to pre-empt that. The subject line then taps into our basic fear of scarcity – who would throw away money? (Hopefully now you, smart Carnival subscriber).Carnival Cruise Lines Email

2. Adobe
Subject Line: Is Your Brand on Woo Woo?

From the B2B world, Adobe pokes at marketing professionals’ worst fear: I won’t be able to account for my efforts, measure channel contribution, or otherwise justify my existence. No marketer in today’s performance-driven climate want their marketing to be running on “woo woo”. This subject line effectively also taps into latent fear while provoking curiosity.

Adobe Email

3. DotMailer
Subject Line: Let’s talk about cutting up your customers

From my own industry of email marketing, email services provider DotMailer grabs attention with this macabre play on words. Intentionally distracting and provoking apprehension, the subject line captures subscriber attention enough to motivate an open, with the message then moving into problem/solution mode.

Subject Lines

4. Motley Fool
Subject Line: Why our CEO sold all his stocks — and what he’s buying next…

If you’re an active investor you’ve probably at least heard of The Motley Fool, a source of stock recommendations and market investment advice. But if you’re a subscriber you’re likely to react to this subject line with alarm! If their CEO sold all his stocks – why? And how can you, a mere amateur – possibly capitalize on his insight? Luckily the message reveals the answer, but the subject lines artfully sets up a “pain/promise” scenario first, triggering reactivity, at least enough to open the message.

Subject Lines

5. Vail Resorts
Subject Line: Blue skies, cool mountain breezes & activities galore

While many of the previous examples are more emotionally negative, provoking our innate human desire to avoid pain, this softer-toned subject line from Vail Resorts scores emotional points because it instead evokes our desire to seek pleasure. Plus it successfully paints a visual picture that conjures the positive feelings we tend to associate with vacation – rest, relaxation, freedom, fun and escape. The message itself delivers on the promise.

Subject Lines

6. Unicef
Subject Line: Will you put down your phone to save a child’s life?

Seriously, who would say no? Positively masterful in laser-cutting straight to our emotional cores, this email from Unicef promoting a fundraising initiative to bring clean water to children in areas without it appeals to our altruistic sides. Taking action couldn’t be easier (you download the app and put your phone down for at least 10 minutes), so the promise of instant gratification is easily delivered. Great example of an email that taps into hope and promise.

Subject Lines - Unicef Email

7. Las Vegas.com
Subject Line: Vegas Season is your chance to be naughty or nice!

I don’t know about you but I tend to associate Las Vegas more with naughty than nice. Yet regardless of how you play there, this chance to win a free trip from the Las Vegas Convention & Visitor Authority appeals to both sides – a wise decision, since too stereotypical an assumption of their subscriber base is sure to offend a large portion of it (yes, there are plenty of well-behaved Vegas visitors and a growing number of families now vacationing there). The exclamation point adds excitement and urgency.

Subject Lines

8. Fandango
Subject Line: Get a Slice of the Action!

We all have innate needs for belonging, which this movie tickets website subject line taps into. However, the transition into the email is rather weak, since the message simply promotes new movie releases but doesn’t specifically feature action films. The emotional connection between subject line and email could be stronger with more relevant and motivating copy.

Subject Lines - Fandango Email

9. True & Co.
Subject Line: Unleash your inner Bardot

Capitalizing on the need for belonging and social acceptance, online bra retailer True & Co. taps into the desires of their customers to feel seductive and sexy with a reference to the famous actress (Brigitte Bardot) which also happens to be the name of the model of one of their bras. In this case, the subject line does support the premise of the message, and provokes plenty of curiosity!

Subject Lines - True & Co Email

10. YES! Magazine
Subject Line: 7 Ways to Find Your Wild Side (Start With a Nap)

As a magazine, Yes! has copious content they can and do re-purpose for email. The subject line of each of these monthly magazine issue recap emails highlight either the most controversial or ironic content, again provoking, in the case, curiosity and anticipation. In any case polarizing content works well to get subscribers emotionally involved with it, and the brand.

Subject Lines

Here are two final points to remember about using emotionally-provocative subject lines:

1) US legal requirements under CAN SPAM mandate that the subject line of a commercial email must be consistent with the content of the message. So, just pulling any emotionally-provocative subject line out of the hat and slapping it on your next campaign without making a legitimate connection to your offer or content isn’t going to cut it.

2) Not only is message-follow-though a must for your emotional subject line, but landing page consistency is too. If you’re going to go down the path of eliciting an emotional response, don’t be a tease – deliver! Take your subscribers on an emotional journey by painting a picture of their pain avoided or their wishes fulfilled. Illustrate the transformational outcome to be experienced if they respond, buy or otherwise complete your call to action. This means no sub-par copywriting, and great leverage of images and even video if you have it.

Finally, notice how many of the subject lines above used a question or exclamation point. Provoking curiosity, urgency, excitement and enthusiasm are also sure-fire ways to evoke emotion, so don’t shy away from them.

The next time you’re struggling to come up with an engaging and memorable subject line, think about appealing to emotions vs. intellect. Better yet – conduct an A/B split test of two radically different subject lines. The results might really pack a punch!

Or, get some help here

Helpful Links Related to This Article:

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions: http://contentinsights.co/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Plutchiks-Wheel-of-Emotion.jpg

Creating Emotional Connections Online: https://synchronicitymarketing.com/creating-emotional-connections-in-online-marketing-part-3/


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