As an email marketer, it’s easy to get too caught up in trying to do what everyone else is doing.
We talk about it a lot here on the blog, but standing out from the crowd of your subscribers’ inboxes is one of the most crucial things you must do when creating email campaigns.
It’s one thing to follow trends, but if you want more opens and clicks, you’ve got to start trying things your subscribers have never encountered before.
That’s a scary prospect, I know. It can be hard to even know where to start.
My suggestion? Start from your subject lines.
A creative, unique, and eye-catching subject line can make the difference between a valuable, repeat customer and a lost, inactive subscriber.
To help you with that, here are nine examples of creative subject lines from real brands—including what makes them work and what you can take away from each.
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What do poets, songwriters, and great email copywriters all have in common? They love to rhyme.
If you’re looking to craft a catchy and stand-out subject line, you can’t go wrong with a rhyming phrase. This one by cosmetics brand Morphe is a great example:
Humans are attracted to sounds and language that is rhythmic and lyrical, and rhyming phrases play right into that affinity. This is especially true when the rhyme appears at the end of the phrase, as it does here.
Morphe also keeps things short and snappy, rather than writing a whole poem in the subject line. They take only four words to let you know, in a catchy way, what the product is that they’re promoting and make it sound appealing at the same time.
If taking the time to rhyme isn’t so appealing to you, why not try something a little more subtle? I’m a fan of this example in particular:
On the face of it, it looks like Thirdlove is deliberately misspelling the word “cuter” to make it stand out. And it certainly does. The umlaut—those dots over the U—is rarely used in English, and so it immediately catches the eye of the reader.
But when you open this email, things get a little more interesting. Inside, they’re promoting a product collaboration with a brand called Kyütee—and suddenly the subject line makes more sense.
It’s a smart way to tease their new collab in a unique and striking manner.
Perhaps wordplay isn’t for you and that’s okay.
Another possible route to take is grabbing your subscribers’ attention with a bold, confident statement. Something that makes them think, “Wow, really?!”
Check out how Lush does it:
Shampoo bars, in case you’re unfamiliar, are solid bars of shampoo that use much less packaging than traditional shampoo. With the growing cultural awareness and adoption of sustainable living, you might have seen them cropping in more and more shops.
With this subject line, Lush is letting their subscribers know that they’re not just hopping on to this trend, but they’re the originators. That status comes with a lot of weight, showing you that they’re an authority on both sustainability and beauty products, and making you more likely to trust and buy from them.
If your brand has a claim to fame or is an authority in whatever you specialize in, why not let your subscribers know right there in the subject line?
4. Death Wish Coffee
Bold statements don’t have to be reserved solely for claims of authority, however. Sometimes, shock value in itself is more than enough to turn heads and get clicks.
Death Wish Coffee is a brand known for not shying away from strong opinions, and this subject line is no exception:
Death Wish Coffee claims to make the world’s strongest coffee, so it makes perfect sense for their brand voice to be similarly intense.
This subject line is sure to catch the attention of their target audience: those who are fed up with their coffee not tasting strong enough and are in need of something more powerful.
It’s not every day that you see something in your inbox wishing death upon something else, so it certainly grabs your attention. If that’s just the kind of attention your brand is after, then why not follow suit?
Personalization is powerful. We know that.
But the brands really making email personalization work for them are not the ones simply putting a name at the end of a subject line and calling it a day. They’re the ones who are going above and beyond to make their subscribers feel seen and acknowledged as individuals.
Chubbies is a champion of this:
By incorporating Rikke’s name into this fun play-on-words phrase, they’re creating a sense of familiarity with her. Sunday isn’t just a fun day anymore, it’s a day specifically for her.
Seeing your first name used in subject lines like this—with effort and creativity—both endears you to the brand and creates a sense of trust that increases open rates.
Before sending your next email campaign, take some time to think of an inventive way to talk directly to your subscribers and you’ll notice the results.
The Internet loves emojis, and what’s not to love? They’re bright, colorful, and can convey a lot of meaning in much fewer characters than those old-fashioned words we’re so attached to.
For all these reasons and more, emojis make perfect additions to your subject lines. You could, of course, add emojis to existing subject lines to jazz them up a little. Or, you could take the Anthropologie approach:
Instead of telling you that this email contains a collection of their latest floral pattern fashions, they let the emojis do the talking. Not only is this economical character-limit-wise, but it’s also much nicer to look at.
The flower emojis compel you to click through and give you hints about the company’s new arrivals, making them much more effective than simply writing a subject line like “new floral collection”.
There is one thing to be aware of, though: different devices and operating systems tend to have different emoji icons. If you’re using them to convey a particular message, it’s worth taking a look on some other computers or phones to check that you’re still making sense.
One of the most effective ways to get people to engage with your brand is to make them laugh.
Something about the absurd humor of this subject line made me do a literal double-take while scrolling through my inbox.
Without ruining it too much by over-explaining the joke, Shinesty is playing on the fact that its new product is so great that only a witch could have made it. It strikes a great balance between getting a chuckle from brand loyalists and promoting the quality of its products.
The meme-y quotation format works really well for this joke and stands out easily from other, more standard subject line formats. It’s also a little silly, which fits perfectly with Shinesty’s brand identity.
8. Loud Lacquer
Unless your target audience is people who have been living under rocks for a long time, there is a multitude of pop culture references you can use in your email marketing.
Back in 2002, the song that this line is referencing, “Without Me”, was a controversial topic as well as a big hit, meaning that it’s forever ingrained into many people’s pop culture knowledge even today.
Referencing pop culture, whether it be with song lyrics, movie quotes, or even celebrity gossip, allows your subscribers to identify with your subject lines, creating an ideal set-up for them to connect with your brand.
Which references you use will, of course, be dictated by both who your subscribers are and what kind of message you want to convey as a brand. Eminem is probably not appealing to everybody, but fortunately, there’s a lot of pop culture out there to pick from.
My last example may be a bit eccentric for some tastes, but it’s actually for that reason that I couldn’t include it on this list.
After all, sometimes all you need to do to stand out from the crowd is be a little weird, something that Recess, a brand producing hemp-infused sparkling water, knows well.
Here’s one of its subject lines that appeared recently in my inbox:
I stopped in my scrolling tracks and paused to think, “Bones? In sparkling water?”
It was a bizarre thought, but the subject line said it was an important note. I was so intrigued and confused at the same time that I just had to click through to the email.
This is what I was met with:
No, it wasn’t April Fools’ Day, just an average day in March with this strange, yet very funny email. Nothing particularly sales-y or promotional, just a weird little hello.
This approach may not be for everyone, but I, for one, thoroughly appreciated it. And if your subscribers are anything like me, they might too.
As the author Earl Nightingale once said, “If you want to be successful and don’t have a good model to follow, then take a look at what everyone else is doing and do the opposite”.
That might seem a little counterintuitive to what I’ve been saying throughout this article, but it makes a good point. If you want to stand out, the last thing you want to do is copy what someone else has done.
Instead, use these creative subject line examples as inspiration for your own brainstorming sessions. Take their techniques and make them your own, so you can let your subscribers know exactly how inventive and original your brand really is.