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10 bold subject line strategies nobody has tried yet

The subject line is the most important part of any email.

Image credit: BBC


For marketing emails, this is especially true.

Perhaps that’s why we here at Phrasee have been so obsessed with them for so long.

An attention-grabbing subject line can (and often does) mean the difference between a successful email marketing campaign and a complete flop.

But in these oversaturated days of crammed inboxes and email marketing overload, what actually constitutes “attention grabbing” anymore? How can any brand hope to really stand out?

Well, we here at Phrasee have developed sophisticated machine learning technology to accomplish just that, but maybe you aren’t ready for that just yet. Perhaps you are hoping for a few simple things you can try out in-house before seeking professional help. A few strategies that maybe the literally billions of marketing emails sent worldwide each year have overlooked.

Fair enough.

We’ve got a few suggestions for you, too.

And we’ll give you these ones for free!

10 bold email subject line strategies nobody has tried yet


1) The threat

Image credit: CBS


“Open this email or die slowly and painfully”

Want your subject line to jump off the computer screen and capture the interest of your recipients immediately? Try threatening them. You can threaten their safety, or that of their loved ones. You could threaten their pets, children or spouse. Tell them you are going to set their house on fire, or send compromising information to their employer. You probably won’t convert much, but your open rates will be through the roof!


2) Stalker-level personalisation


“Red underwear, eerily similar to the ones you put on this morning when you thought no-one was watching, 50% off this week!”

These days everyone wants to make their email marketing more personalised. From tracking user purchase data to analysing browser information, there are so, so many ways to send personalised, relevant content to recipients. Everybody’s doing it! But what about the “data” the other brands have overlooked or were too cowardly to use? You could find out who your recipient is dating. Perhaps they have recently purchased some embarrassing medication or lost a close relative. Try including the names, ages, and approximate heights of a recipient’s children. Maybe they recently got dumped by a partner. There is so much data on the painful and highly personal details of people’s lives, right there for the mining, if you know where to look for it.


3) The insult

Image credit: Warner Bros


“Check out our website, you whining, pathetic milksop!”

People, as a rule, don’t like being insulted. Go ahead, look it up, it’s true! But when you hurl a cutting insult someone’s way, doesn’t it usually get their attention? Well perhaps the same could be true for an email subject line. If a recipient sees a cruel insult in their inbox crammed in between an offer for buy one get one free shirts and a new pizza combo, which one do you think they’ll click on first? ***note: this strategy can also be combined with personalisation to find others in your recipients’ lives who you can also insult via email marketing subject line, such as spouses, mothers, and children***

4) Making recipients cry

Sony Pictures Television


“Bad news, your dog is dead.”

Here’s the plan: You send out a marketing email with a subject line indicating something terrible has happened. Devastated, the unsuspecting folks on your mailing list spend the next 2-20 minutes bawling uncontrollably. Then, after pulling themselves back together, they open the email to find out the horrifying details. When the recipients realise that it is actually just a marketing email, they are so relieved that they immediately make a purchase and sign up to your newsletter. Boom! Double conversion. It’s win-win, really.


5) The command

Image credit: BBC


“You open this email RIGHT THIS SECOND, mister!”

Little known fact: people love being told what to do. To exploit this quirk of human psychology, simply craft email subject lines commanding you recipients to do what you want them to do. We call this strategy “taking the ‘call to’ out of the call to action”. Your mailing list will thank you (if you command them to).


6) Pleading for sympathy

Image credit: Warner Bros


“If this email doesn’t get 1,000 opens my boss will fire me and my kids won’t go to college and I’ll have to give my cat away.”

Pleading for sympathy doesn’t always work, but when it does it works really, really well. If your recipients know that the success of your company, your job, or your financial security are on the line, will that be enough to drum up some business? It just might be. People care about other people. It’s one of mankind’s greatest weaknesses and has been holding our species back for millennia. Exploit that fact. Couple your heartstring-tugging subject line with some photos of you at the food bank, or your pets looking really hungry in the email body. Remind your recipients that doing something for someone else is its own reward, even if they don’t actually want what you are selling.


7) Begging



Some people are so hard-hearted that pleas for sympathy have no effect. With such folks you can try a different tact. Beg them. Beg them to open your email, then beg them to buy in the body copy. You may not be able to put a price on your dignity, but if you could, maybe that price would be a 6% jump in ROI for this campaign? If so, you’re in business!


8) Boldfaced lying


“We want to send you free beer and money.”

People used to frown upon liars. But not anymore! These days people expect to be lied to. Yet so few brands are willing to rise to the challenge and meet those expectations. Well, their loss could be your gain! Promise things you can’t deliver! Tell your recipients what they want to hear! Say whatever you have to say to get your emails opened, truth be damned!


9) Fearmongering

Image credit: The Walt Disney Company


“Putin launches nukes”

It’s a scary world out there. Terrorism, climate change, nuclear proliferation… people are on edge. Fake news has become a ubiquitous part of modern life, why not fake news subject lines? Simply keep your ears open for the latest thing in the news that everyone is afraid of, and incorporate it into the subject lines for your next campaign. The sit back and watch your open rates skyrocket! Plus maybe someone will buy something. You never know, right?


10) Fake medical news


“Important update about your recent biopsy”

There are probably lots of folks out there who can’t remember the names of every doctor they’ve ever seen. All those specialist appointments and referrals, who can keep track? All you need is a realistic sounding doctor name and a disease or ailment that a lot of people are worried about. The rest of the subject line writes itself!


So, in conclusion, call us. Subject line shortcuts get you nowhere in this business.

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