I don’t allow spam filters to censor my e-mail. As a commentator on the business of marketing, I want to see everything—warts and all. What’s more, being a “see guy” rather than a “hear guy,” I can scan an inbox and delete 100 messages in about 30 seconds. One Monday in March, the following subject line turned up in my inbox: $168 Coffee Lover’s Promo From Gevalia.
I started to delete it when suddenly it dawned on me that Gevalia Kaffe was nuts to ask a stranger for $168 in the middle of a recession. I clicked through, and the landing page proclaimed that I could receive a coffee maker, carafe, travel mug and two boxes of coffee (worth $168 retail) for $22.95 (plus shipping and handling).
The writer stated the offer bass-ackward.
About the Subject Line
The e-mail subject line is the equivalent of the outer envelope teaser copy. Mel Martin, the world’s slowest copywriter, who built the Boardroom empire into a $125-million-a-year business, would sometimes spend a week on the envelope. How important is the teaser or subject line to a sales effort? It’s 100 percent important. After all, if the envelope is pitched out unopened or the e-mail is deleted sans clickthrough, the entire effort is wasted. Once it is opened, that bit of copy represents 0 percent importance.
“It’s the offer, stupid!” said Seattle agency head Bob Hacker. “If performance isn’t what it should be, check the offer first.”
Guru Axel Andersson said, “If you want to dramatically increase your response, then dramatically improve your offer.”
Andersson also said, “Spelling out the offer on the envelope is a dangerous ploy in mailings to cold lists.” This is echoed by legendary freelancer Herschell Gordon Lewis, who stated that you cannot make a sales case on the envelope (and by extension, the subject line of an e-mail). The only purpose of this message is to get the thing opened. For example, “Save 20 Percent on Your Automobile Insurance” is of interest only to people who have been bothered by the thought that they are paying too much for automobile insurance. A far stronger headline (and promise): “Put $200 cash in your pocket next week!”