The Pun-damentals of Seriously Slick Subject lines

Subject Lines

We had a bit of fun in the office this week writing some subject lines for an email for our advent appeal to support people affected by leprosy with toilets and wells. πŸ˜‰ “Well” it just so happens that it is World Toilet Day on Sunday so we couldn’t resist sending a punny email on that day to raise awareness of this important need for basic sanitation. We went from “flushing away toilet poverty” 🌊 to “ending the ‘Loo-nacy’🚽 ” but drew the line at “Give a πŸ’©, fund a toilet”.

Although it was a bit of Fun on a Friday, it reminded me importance of headlines, or in this case subject lines and the legendary copywriters who paved the way for captivating communication.

David Ogilvy

Ogilvy‘s philosophy was clear – simplicity is key. His direct direct messaging headlines highlighted benefits. His knack for cutting through the noise set the stage for the straightforward yet impactful subject lines we often see today. And with Classics like “I’m Head Over Heals in Dove” (OK it was the Sub Headline) he wasn’t afraid of the odd pun now and then.

Gary Halbert

Gary Halbert, my favourite of the old masters was the maestro of curiosity. He could craft headlines that left readers craving more. A classic Halbert-style line would be: “The Secret They Don’t Want You to Know – Unveiling the Truth.” or “The Mystery Unraveled – What They Don’t Want You to Know!” – pure intrigue in just one line. By hinting at a concealed truth, he drew readers in with the promise of insider information – a technique that still works like magic in email subject lines.

Claude Hopkins

Despite being written exactly 100 years ago (1923) Claude Hopkins’ scientific advertising is still a great read and relevant today. (You can read it for free by following the link in this post) His principles of data-driven decision-making can be applied to subject lines.

Eugene Schwartz

Eugene Schwartz was the master of emotional appeal. Known for long-form copy, but his principles of tapping into emotional desire for positive change can easily be applied to subject lines. “Revolutionise Your Mornings – Embrace the Power of a Fresh Start!”

Putting It All Together

Borrowing a page from the playbooks of these advertising legends, and mixing and matching their strategies is a great way to craft captivating email subject lines, which should all be about simplicity, curiosity, and emotional connection.

The Power of Structure

The structure is the secret to writing email subject lines. The popular “How-To” format? e.g. “How to Level Up Your Weekend Plans” or using questions? like “Wondering How to Nail Your Next Presentation?” –provide instant engagement.

Here are 10 popular frameworks:

  1. How-To Framework: Example: “How to Boost Your Productivity to Achieve More with less effort!”
    • Explanation: This framework provides a solution or a set of steps to achieve a desired result. It suggests that valuable information is revealed in the content, so make sure it is!
  2. Question Framework: Example: “Ready to Transform Your Mornings? Discover How to Kickstart Your Day!”
    • Explanation: Asking a question engages the reader by sparking curiosity and prompts them to seek the answer. It creates intrigue and makes opening the email irresistable.
  3. Benefit-Oriented Framework: Example: “Unlock exclusive savings to Lower the cost of your weekly shop!”
    • Explanation: Highlighting a direct benefit informs the reader about the positive outcome or advantage they will gain by opening the email and reading it.
  4. Curiosity Framework: Example: “The Secret They Don’t Want You to Know – Learn How to {do something desirable}!”
    • Explanation: Leveraging curiosity, this framework hints at exclusive or secretive information, compelling the reader to open the email to reveal the secret knowledge.
  5. Numbered List Framework: Example: “7 Surprising Ways to Upgrade Your Daily Routine – Here’s How!”
    • Explanation: A numbered list promises specific and easy to understand information. And apparently 7 is the number that works best…

There is a claim that if you use the number 7 in your headline, 20% more people will click through to your article! I haven’t checked the research but the idea behind this claim is that the number 7 has a psychological impact on people that makes them more likely to click on a headline or ad that includes it. Certain numbers, such as 7, are considered β€œlucky” or are viewed positively in many cultures. But it is not just the number 7, using numbers grabs the reader’s attention and makes it easier for the reader to understand the content.

  1. Urgency Framework: Example: “Limited Time Offer: Grab Your Discounts Now to Save Big!”
    • Explanation: Creating a sense of urgency encourages action. This framework suggests time sensitivity but is similar to the FOMO framework.
  2. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) Framework: Example: “Don’t Miss Out! Achieve Exclusive Deals Inside – Act Fast to Reap the Benefits!”
    • Explanation: Triggering the fear of missing out, this framework implies that there are unique opportunities or content available, compelling the reader to act swiftly.
  3. Personalization Framework: Example: “Hey [Name], Your Special Invitation Awaits – Discover How to Make It Yours!”Explanation: Personalising subject lines by using the recipient’s name directly makes the email feel personal. I think this still works, even though most people know that it is marketing automation. There is risk if this goes wrong – No one wants an email with Hi {firstname}!
  1. Storytelling Framework: Example: “From Struggle to Success: A Journey to Better Habits – Learn How to Overcome Obstacles.”
    • Explanation: Telling a story creates a narrative that draws readers in emotionally. This framework implies that the email content will share a compelling story, making it more enticing.
  2. Teaser or Intrigue Framework: Example: “Unveiling the Unbelievable: Your Sneak Peek Inside – Discover How to Be Part of the Excitement!”
    • Explanation: Using intrigue, this framework offers a glimpse into something exciting or extraordinary, leaving the reader curious and eager to explore more by opening the email.

The Art of Alliteration, Puns, and Humour

Ready to spice things up? Alliteration is your secret sauce. “Fabulous Friday Freebies” – see how it rolls off the tongue?

And who can resist a good pun? “Donut Miss Out on Our Sweet Deals!” – cheesy, but undeniably fun.

And humour? If you get it right, it can be very powerful!

Pattern Interrupt

Maybe throw a curveball with pattern interrupt. “Oops! Did You Forget Something Important?” – a sudden twist that makes you go, “Wait, what did I forget?”, “This was not supposed to happen”, “They didn’t want me to send this email”, “I nearly got fired” and so on.

Why not chuck in a few (πŸ₯³πŸ’ͺπŸš€) emojis for good measure πŸ“. But don’t overdo it! πŸ˜‰!

Breaking the Mould

While structures, frameworks, and formulas, are the guard rails to success – don’t be afraid to mix and match them for maximum impact. “Unlock the Power of Productivity: 5 Time-Saving Hacks You Won’t Believe!” – it’s a How-To, it’s intriguing, and it promises mind-blowing discoveries. The ultimate subject line concoction.

But most importantly, remember, behind every email address is a real person. Speak to their interests, tickle their curiosity, and make them smile. If you really want to succeed, you need to really get to know your audience.