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Do Overly Specific Subject Lines Impact E-mail Response?

I just got my weekly e-mail newsletter from “Ticketmaster Canada”: and – like I it does every week – my mouse went back-and-forth between the “delete” and “open” buttons as I decided what to do.
Take a look at the newsletter as it appears in my inbox:
Ticketmaster Subject Line
Now that the kids are older there isn’t much chance we’ll be going to Disney on Ice, so my first inclination is to hit delete.
But, if I decide to open the message despite it looking like a *completely unappealing offer to me*, I find something very different:
Ticketmaster E-mail
I wonder how many Billy Bragg or Kris Kristofferson or Violent Femmes or Rob Thomas fans will be missing these shows because the subject line turned them off?

This problem isn’t unique to Ticketmaster – it is a fundamental flaw in newsletters. Because you are addressing more than one topic per e-mail, the subject line can never be both explicit and concise. One Degree faces this problem every week. We send an e-mail digest that provides lines to a week’s worth of articles. Usually we pick a few hot topics and highlight those in the subject line, but we can never mention everything that might be of interest to all readers.
Has anyone come up with a solution to this problem, or is it just something we have to live with and test to minimize the impact?


  1. Stefan Eyram
    Stefan Eyram February 2, 2006

    Ken, this is a great point. There are two key factors an email marketer has to consider before anyone even gets to see their email or offer: 1) the email needs to be delivered to their inbox and 2) the Subject line has to engage them to open the email.
    Unless you are highly engaged by an email sender on a regular basis you will scan the Subject line before opening an email from them. If you use a preview function the sender has a few additional lines of text to try and get your attention.
    I see too many email senders using the same, static Subject line with every email (e.g. “Your weekly (insert compnay, or brand) newsletter is here”. A good email marketing solution should allow you to add personalization and conditional content in the Subject to increase relevance.
    When talking about Ticketmaster I think they don’t do a good job of email marketing. JamBase ( is in the same space as Ticketmaster. They only send you email based on preferences and past behaviour. You only receive an email to alert you when a band you like, or another band in a genre you like, have a live event coming up. It’s all about relevance. They actually send a lot less emails than they would if they sent the same stuff to everyone based on only a few criteria. But they get a much higher response and activity rate…and their readers are a loyal and engaged audience.
    Here’s a case study on their email marketing:

  2. Mitch Solway
    Mitch Solway February 3, 2006

    To be honest I think that the most important element in having someone open your marketing email is that you have built a trusted relationship with them.
    I could get into a long discussion over this (perhaps another day) but the best way to ensure that they open your email is to have it such that they actually want to open it, regardless of the topic, because every time they hear from you through email or in store or otherwise it is a good experience.
    I don’t care how good your subject line is, after a while if you don’t deliver any value to me in your email marketing I am just going to trash all your email..even if it has a great headline (because I have learned that all that is great is the headline)..and then I am likely to just unsubscribe.
    The simple fact is that marketers just don’t spend enough time thinking about their customers in their email marketing programs – only themselves and the stuff they want to sell.
    I would love to see a company send me an email one day that says “Hi, you know today marks your third month of subscribing to our email list and even though our records show that you have not purchased anything from us I just wanted to personally thank you for continuing to receive our emails. There is a lot of email floating around out there and the fact that you continue to receive ours means a lot. I hope you continue to enjoy our e-mailings and as our way of saying “Thanks” here is a special code you can use to receive $20 off of any purchase from our online store. It is valid for 60 days so I hope that gives you enough time to find something you like. Thanks again and we’ll be speaking to you!”
    Now, after reading that I would be sure to continue to opt in and open their mailings – and certainly if their “regular” mailings continued to add value to me”

  3. Joe Szabo
    Joe Szabo February 8, 2006

    Good emails are simple with a single-minded message. When emails have more than one subject, message heirarchy must go into effect. To Ken’s point, how many Violent Femmes concerts have I missed because of the Disney-esque subject line?
    One solution that I preach to my clients is to keep emails simple. These emails tend to generate the best response. If there is more than 1 subject then the subject line should indicate that one way or another.
    Joe Szabo
    Creative Director
    ThinData Inc.

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