Subject Line Abuse

You see it all the time, unfortunately: Subject lines that are designed to trick, rather than entice you, to open the email.

Yes, the sole purpose of a subject line should be to compel the recipient to open the email. Scroll through your inbox and your junk mail folder and you will find the countless tactics people use to do just that, ranging from the very clever to the very clumsy.

More often than not, you’ll see clumsy subject lines. Some examples:

  • hi, there d.erickson
  • Weekly Update
  • e-Alert
  • This pill could change your sex life
  • What’s New In NAME OF NEWSLETTER – February
  • February Newsletter
  • 5 days till OFFER expires

Those last two are playing off the urgency tactic. It’s nothing new: Introduce a sense of urgency and people are more likely to act. After all, why not delay (and forget) what you need not do immediately?

There’s no crucial reason why retailers, for example, must limit their sales within a seven day time period. If the objective is to acquire new customers, why not two weeks or a month? Everyone knows the time-limited sale is artifice, but they act on it.

And for the most part, it’s honest. Okay, you’re only going to give me a week to take advantage of the discount. If I don’t take advantage, that’s on me.

False Sense Of Urgency In Email Subject Lines

But I’ve begun to see many more instances of using the urgency tactic when it is wholly unwarranted. And by organizations that should know better.

I’ve seen mainstream media outlets attache the !!!BREAKING NEWS!!! category to trivial stories. I’ve received a BREAKING NEWS email from a local business publication for a story about a deal to build a new office tower. Really? That’s BREAKING NEWS-worthy?

So please don’t do this:

Subject Line Abuse

You’ve just confirmed there’s nothing to report, so if there’s nothing to report, there’s nothing to BREAK, correct?

Abusing the subject line like this is the quickest way to lose credibility and as a brand, as a news organization, isn’t that your greatest asset?

Just Following Up On The Spam I Sent You Earlier

Another tactic I’ve seen on the increase is sending an unsolicited email (spam) and then sending a follow-up reminder of the email (spam) they sent earlier, asking you to act on it.

This is all done in a very familiar tone to give the impression you already have a relationship with the spammer.

Kinda annoying but ultimately obvious. I hit the Spam button on these because they are intentionally deceptive.

Spam + Aggressive Cold Calling = No Sale

Two weeks ago I got this unsolicited email (spam):


I was looking at your website and noticed that your NATIONAL BRAND and that aligns extremely well with the benefits of utilizing a platform like OURS and I was hoping to find a few minutes tomorrow afternoon to speak.

I don’t know if you are familiar with us but we are rapidly becoming one of the most adopted communications platforms in the industry and are now providing our services to some extremely recognizable brands and firms to execute their communications needs.

Attached is a live look into a demo account with NATIONAL BRAND-

Let me know your thoughts

I deleted the email, of course, because it was nothing I needed and, you know, because it was spam. Then two days later I got a call from the guy, who interrupted me while I was in the middle of a big project.

He pestered me for a few minutes–Did you see the email I sent?–until I told him I didn’t have time for him. So he hung up and followed up with another email:


Sorry to catch you at a bad time. Here is the original email I sent. Let me know if this looks interesting to you and if we can find a few minutes to speak early next week.Best

And then another email the next week:


I reached out last week, caught you at a bad time but just wanted to see if there is any interest in evaluating / learning more about new tools in media . Check out a couple screenshots and let me know your thoughts.

Do you have time this week to speak briefly?


Which I ignored because, you know, I’ve got work to do. Then today I was interrupted by another cold call, this time from someone higher up the food chain and, again, during which I was smack dab in the middle of a project. She tried all her might to get me to schedule a demo to no avail.

She too followed up with an email:

Hi David-
Per our brief conversation, just wanted to introduce myself here as an Executive point of contact. I am the head of sales for COMPANY NAME and we are a fast growth brand strategy platform which can provide a single lense [sic] on your clients [sic] brands. I’d love to show you the platform when you have a moment.


A____Vice President, Sales


How To Stack The Cards Against Yourself In 6 Easy Steps

  1.  Send unsolicited email (spam) to try and force a conversation
  2. Interrupt your “prospect” with a cold call (spam) referencing your unsolicited email (spam) as if that gives you a level of familiarity
  3. Follow it up with more email your prospect didn’t ask for (spam)
  4. Follow that up with more aggressive cold calling (spam)
  5. And more spam
  6. And build resentment within your prospect during the entire process

This is old school and it doesn’t work any more. There are smarter ways to go about selling your service. Yes, they take more time and more effort but ultimately, they will be far more successful, too.

The e-Strategy Academy covers all aspects of digital marketing including search optimization & marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, video marketing, mobile marketing & public relations.