#fastlain feature: “Flop or Fly.”

I get a lot of email. (100+ a day!)

I delete most of it, but a few grab me. Every week I will be announcing 5 winning and losing email subject lines I received this week, and why they worked or flopped. Stay tuned to soon start to seeing a pattern — and to review your own subject lines with a more critical eye.

First, the winners:

#1: “Spankin New Tees For Only 5 Bucks”

From: Textual Tees

Why it works:

  • Right off the bat I’m pulled in by “Spankin,” which is an adjective I rarely see. I’m a sucker for sass. 🙂
  • The “Only for 5 Bucks” grabs my attention because I immediately know that it’s super-cheap. I like cheap. 

How you can use this:

Get your thesaurus out and add in those adjectives that are often forgotten about (ensuring, of course, they match your brand and message). By doing so you’ll create subject lines that are unique and relevant. Don’t be afraid to hit the reader right up front with your offer if it’s a good one!


#2: “2 HUGE announcements”

From: Grant Cardone

Why it works:

  • The capitalized “HUGE” makes the announcement seem even MORE important and grabs attention. 
  • Some times a simple subject line that is straight to the point is the best option. Why beat around the bush?

How you can use this:

Use capitalized letters on occasion to grab attention and stand out. Keep your headlines KISS style, keep it simple silly (or stupid, or sweetie!).


#3: “An Arizona nonprofit needs you. Volunteer now.”

From: Stanford Alumni

Why it works:

  • Starting with “An Arizona nonprofit” grabs my attention – it’s super-related to me, and I’m an easy touch for volunteerism. 
  • “Volunteer now.” This is a straightforward call to action. No guessing required.
  • The word “needs you” is a great touch. It appeals to my emotion of compassion and makes it feel like I am the one that could make a difference.

How you can use this:

Incite curiosity. Place the call to action in the subject line to let the reader know exactly what’s needed. Appeal to emotion.

#4: “September”

From: James Schramko

Why it works:

  • The only thing I see is the word “September,” so I’m immediately curious! Of course I opened right away!

Pro Tip:

The most effective way of marketing is to disrupt the pattern. It immediately stood out, making me extra curious.  Well done, James!


#5:“Time is running out! Share your story for a chance to win!”

From: Wildflower Bakery

Why it works:

  • “Time is running out!” is a great (and classic) way to make the reader feel urgency.
  • I’m encouraged to share MY story – not for their benefit, but for MINE. I like that I can WIN! 🙂

How you can use this:

Focus on the reader and what’s in it for them. Most people are happy to share if you’re offering something in return. 


Now, the flops:

#1:“I got to hand over Ellen’s $10K check :)”

(I’m not throwing anyone under the bus here, so these will remain anonymous!)

Why it flops:

This one flops because (a) I don’t know who Ellen is, and (b) you’re handing over the money not me! This an example of a poor headline because it is not relevant to me. I am not concerned about your money — I care about MY money. 

How you can avoid this: Reader first. Reader first. Reader first! Make your emails spotlight them, not YOU. 


#2:“You’re Invited to FC/LA—The Only Creativity Counter-Conference.”

Why it flops:

Another invite.. I get a bunch of emails inviting to me to things, what makes this any different than the rest? NOTHING. I don’t even know what FC/LA is. And seeing that this is from Fast Company, they should know better. Moving on! (Whoops, just threw FC under the bus… sorry…)

How you can avoid this:

Refrain from assuming people are familiar with your acronyms unless it’s NASA, CSI, or NFL. 🙂 


#3:“you might also be interested in this”

Why it flops:

This is an attempt at stoking the curiosity fire, but there are several red flags here that put a damper on my interest. First, I have no idea what THIS is. There are no keywords to indicate what it is, and it simply looks boring. The language in this headline is lazy. They used the word “might” and to me that means that even they aren’t confident that I will be interested! Why take the time to look into something I might be interested in? Better luck next time!

How you can avoid this:

Be. Confident. If you have a product/service that is amazing, then be confident in that! Have colorful and fun word choices to give the headline pizzazz to make it enticing. We aren’t trying to bore people before they even give us a click!


#4: “[ES] Lack of Solid Ground is Bad for Business”

Why it flops: What the heck? I don’t know what [ES] is, so I’m immediately turned off. Next, there is virtually nothing about that headline that makes me care or makes me curious. Survey says “XXX.”

How you can avoid this: Once again, don’t assume people know who you are. You’re speaking to people who subscribed five seconds ago as well as people who subscribed five months ago. They ALL need to feel that you are speaking to them.

Next, make your subject line interesting. If you can’t find something compelling to say, don’t send the email.


#5: “Why you should be suspect about the questions you’re asking about your business”

Why it flops: Ummmm WAT?

Remember: When people go into their inboxes, they are skimming. You have about oh-point-two seconds to capture them. If you make them think or make them confused or make them bored, you’ve lost them. There are numerous “speed bumps” in this subject line:

  1. “Suspect” is most typically used as a noun. If you use it as a verb in a headline, you are going to confuse people. BUMP!
  2. Passive voice. “You should be” and “you’re asking” are both passive. They lead me to snooze-ville. BUMP!
  3. Questions I’m asking about my business? That doesn’t even make sense. I have to spend several seconds just figuring out what you’re talking about. BUMP!

How you can avoid this: 

Be clear.

Be concise.

Be cute. (or at least not boring!).


The upshot: People are busy. If you don’t capture them immediately, you won’t capture them at all.

Got your own submissions? List them in the comments below!

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