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Emojis and Emails, a Match Made in Heaven (Maybe)

by Art

I don’t like emojis. There, I said it.

I think they’re juvenile and ugly, but whenever I say as much I get called a fun sponge. You can imagine how my heart sank the first time I saw a brand using them in an email subject line.

emojis tacky school of rock kid

But, because I’m a copywriter, I’m of the mindset that my personal feelings about techniques don’t matter a jot if they have a positive impact on conversions. So, DO emojis have a positive impact on open rates?

After setting out that answer that question I found… very little.

Using emojis in email subject lines is a recent thing, so it’s not surprising that at the time of writing—with the exception of an article or two—not much has been written on it.

Of course, that’s not very helpful for marketers who are wondering whether or not to give it a try, so I thought I’d put down some thoughts on the topic.

Emojis and Subject Line Length

the shining in emojis class=

Click to Enlarge

First things first, let’s talk about an obvious advantage of using emojis in subject lines. They allow you to convey a lot of information in a single character.

That’s why every time a blockbuster movie comes out, an emoji plot summary goes viral on Twitter. A 96-character emoji version of The Shining posted by Jordan Peele, for example, received 13,000 retweets.

More and more emails are being opened on mobile devices, where the number of characters displayed in a subject line is usually somewhere between 30 and 40 characters. By the time you get “Incredible deals on…” written, you’ve already chomped half of the space you have available.

In that respect, emojis have a definite appeal, especially if they spell the end of awkward cutoffs like this:

Intended: “You’ll love our new freshly churned butter!”
As seen on mobile: “You’ll love our new freshly churned butt…”

Emojis and Gender/Age

A 63-year-old CBS exec named Gil Schwartz had the following to say about emojis in a New York Times op-ed about whether or not grown men should be using emojis:

“For a moment you’re Taylor Swift. If you’re confident in your manhood, you can certainly lapse into Taylor Swift-hood momentarily.”

That’s all well and good when it comes to personal emoji use, but the idea of your brand lapsing into Taylor Swift-hood might be something that fills you with horror. There’s nothing feminine about emojis, per se, but their use is commonly associated with teenage girls.

Using emojis for that type of target audience is a no-brainer, a slam dunk and one that you’re probably already capitalizing on. An Econsultancy article on emojis claims that 2% of emails now contain emojis in their subject line, so you’re in good company.

It would be easy to assume that an older audience would find emojis off-putting, but that’s not necessarily the case. Stats from MarketingLand indicate that those over the age of 45 are more receptive—with an average approval rating of around 70%—to humor in email subject lines than a younger audience.

Emoji Meme

Of course, emojis aren’t necessarily humorous, but they do seem to sit in the same sort of space. It’s also important to note that humor is, like emojis are, divisive.

The 70% approval rating quoted above is high, but it still risks turning off 30% of the desired audience. I’d expect that, in the case of emojis, that number may be even higher.

Emojis and Tone

Hopefully it goes without saying that, for some businesses, using emojis just isn’t appropriate. I really hope I don’t see any articles expressing outrage about subject lines like:

❤️ Great Deals on Tombstones! 👻

But even in the B2B space, emojis can look unprofessional. If you’re handling people’s money or financial data, for example, people probably don’t want to see you using emojis or being too light in tone.

There will always be exceptions to this rule, like for feisty startups who are trying to disrupt the status quo, but I think you’ll already know whether or not it’s appropriate for you to think about experimenting with emojis.

Subject Line Emoji Data

I warn you now, there’s not much of it around. Since introducing emoji support in February, MailChimp has collated some information about the top emojis used by their customers…

mailchimp top emojis subject lines

source: MailChimp February – May 2015

…but when it comes to the impact of these symbols, they’re sitting on the fence. In their most recent blog post about emojis, they say the following:

This is really just the beginning. We don’t see a consistent positive or negative impact from using emojis at this point, but they’re still growing in popularity and stabilizing.

Elsewhere, folks have attempted to break down the impact of icons and symbols, with Econsultancy putting together the following graphic:

emojis icons email subject lines

As the author of the post points out, we can’t take this data as gospel.

It’s unlikely that a snowman emoji would be well received in summer (unless the email creator has a keen sense of irony), and the discrepancy between two fairly similar sun symbols is puzzling.

Tips For Using Emojis in Emails

  • If you’re hesitant about how emojis will be received, test them with a very small segment of your email list, say 10% or so. Then, if you see positive results from that, you can expand further.
  • I tend to see the ❤️ symbol more than anything else, so I’d avoid it if possible. Emoji overkill will probably be coming soon to an inbox near you, and avoiding the most common might help you to stay fresher that little bit longer.
  • Check, check and check again that any symbols you’re using will actually show up on as many platforms as possible.

Building on that last point, we recommend sending a test to a few different smartphones in the office rather than relying on your email marketing program’s preview feature.

Final Thoughts

Like with anything else relating to email marketing/copywriting/design, you won’t know how your audience will react unless you test using emojis in email subject lines yourself. Is there a test emoji? This one maybe? 💯

We’re still at the stage where doing so is a novelty, though that won’t last for long. For now, emojis are a good way to inject a bit of personality and really help cut down subject line length so, on that basis alone, they’re worth testing.

Now I’m going to swiftly bring this article to a close because, much to my dismay, I’m actually starting to like the little things… 😤

Already tried using emojis in your email marketing and seen success? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear your stories.

5 Comments

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Art

Art is a freelance copywriter/content marketer based in the UK. He's worked with both startups and large corporations on topics ranging from fitness to tech and business issues.

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  1. Nathan Elward says:
    February 22, 2016 at 2:40 am

    Hey Art.. Thanks for the article. Using them sparingly; and in the body of the email and not in the header has worked for me. Working on the email templates and good autoresponders help much more in captivating the readers’ interest. Been associated to EasySendy Pro they even help me use SMTP gateways like Amazon SES, Mandrill, SendGrid or MailGun. My email open rate is awesome. Good regards to all. Thanks Nathan

  2. Anuradha Chawla says:
    February 21, 2016 at 11:18 am

    Adding symbols to subject lines isn’t for everyone. However, if you’re sending a fun newsletter and want to bring a new weapon into the fight for attention in the inbox, then it’s a neat technique to try. But don’t use an emoji just for the sake of using it. Make sure it is relevant to your campaign. Adding a bunch of happy faces and hearts is probably not going to get you great results. More than likely your reader will be annoyed and delete your email before opening it. Especially if you do it frequently. It can also convey a lack of professionalism if people are seeing cutesy symbols that have no relevance to your brand or message.

  3. Bhushan Kulkarni says:
    October 10, 2015 at 1:20 am

    Hi Art.. This is Bhushan from Ariticmail. This was a much needed article. They are very few people talking about this. Many aren’t even aware that this is becoming a trend, others are simply confused. To share my experience, in a recent interaction with a client from the movie business, we suggested that they could use emojis as their newsletters and offer emails were all pertaining to bring some fun moments in people’s lives; and it worked for them. On the contrary as you rightly said it scary for any financial company to use emojis; which might be disregarded or misunderstood. Don’t they say, better safe than sorry!

  4. Matt G. says:
    August 20, 2015 at 7:31 am

    With my own testing I feel as if this has already burned itself out. My readers/list responded positively to it at first (using them sparingly) but soon after they hurt my open rate. I can’t blame my readers at all, even in my own inbox I see emails being spammed with emojis and ascii pretty much daily now.

    • Art says:
      August 20, 2015 at 7:36 am

      Thanks for the comment, Matt 🙂

      This post was originally written a month or two ago and I think, even in that short space of time, we’ve already seen a certain degree of emoji burnout.

      In contrast to your own experience, I’ve actually noticed fewer in my own inbox recently…but then again I did make a big effort to unsub from a lot of spammy emails a little while ago.

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