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5 Examples of Awful and Awesome Email Subject Lines...and Maybe a Few Shades of Grey

Yes, my inbox is overflowing. I my defense, most of those 23,000 have been read and replied to. I get a lot of email newsletters, PR emails, special offers, blog name it, my email is full of it. I like to keep up-to-date on what others are doing in my industry. To be able write for my clients, I need to stay in-the-know about what's happening in other industries, too. So, when it comes to email subject lines I've seen them all. (Plus, in my almost two decades of copywriting, I've written my fair share.)

Let me tell you something: a bunch of you guys are doing it all wrong. Let's look at some examples and I'll tell you why they miss the mark.

The Hand Slap

Email Subject Tips

This subject line made me curious, so I clicked. I have to give them credit for that. I also have to admit that I love crazy people. Come on, I am one.

It would have been a great subject line if it wasn't paired with a horrible intro:

Hi Alina (Yes, this marketer didn't put a comma after my name. Sigh.) Call me crazy, but I am a little surprised you still haven’t taken me up on this...

Instantly, I felt like I got an email hand slap from the online nunnery. It's like when your mom would pull you aside, call you by your full name and say, "I'm surprised at your behavior!"

Okay, so maybe it's not that bad, on reflection. Those were my first impressions, though, and that's all you've got, my friend.

The Clingy Boyfriend

I have to admit, when I saw this subject line, I panicked, thinking that I had forgotten to email someone back or said something wrong. Of course, I clicked.

This one hits in the feels.

Then, I read the email. Here's a little:

Don't be that email marketing guy. Just don't.


It went on and on. Boy, it felt like I needed to pry this email out of my inbox with a spatula!

My first thought was: Come on, people! Really? You're trying to guilt trip people into buying your products? You're better than that.

My second thought was: Clingy, needy and suffocating.

I know, I know. That sounds really harsh and awful, but I'm being honest. No person ever wants to feel like a company is coming on to them like a clingy ex, so it is no surprise that I didn't by this person's product.

A Few Good Men...and Women

Okay, I don't like a pile-on of negativity, so let's look at some people who hit the mark. I clicked. I laughed. I loved.

fifty shades of grey subject line email


Now, to understand why this is a fantastic subject line, you need a little context. This is a PR pitch about a study on how Fifty Shades of Grey is just about as well written as the majority of other books in its genre. That subject line shocked me. (I tried giving the book a try to see what people were fussing about and couldn't stand how poorly written it was. I put it down after a chapter.) This email subject certainly made me curious. The inro and the rest of the email didn't disappoint. It was email marketing perfection. (If you want to see the study, I've added the infographic to the bottom of this post.)

Al's a funny guy.

Now, I've already featured Al Ruggie in a previous article, but I just can't help but list him here, too. Here is the full email:

A great marketing email example

Okay, the subject line did scare me for a split second, but then I realized my dog was sitting right beside me. Then, I read on. The email was funny and upbeat. Everything and marketing email should be. Damn skippy I used him in that article.

great email subject for a newsletter

The Freelancer by Contently Newsletter continually has great subject lines for their newsletter emails. How do they do it? Pretty simple. Their subject asks a great question about their featured article. This week's featured article was As a Journalist, Should Writing Listicles Bother Me? The subject line tied in well with the content of the email and it asked an intriguing question that made me open the email. Bravo!

The Lesson?

People want positive messages in their inbox. No downers, no guilt. Most of all, make sure that your subject lines and your email text are cohesive. Just getting someone to click isn't going to get you a sell or a reply. What's in the email is just as important. If your emails aren't converting, take a look at your email subject line AND the copy.

Oh, and here's that study, as promised:



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