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Obama’s irresistible email subject lines

“If I don’t call you.” “Something lovely.” “Frustrated.” “Big things.”

All of these are recent subject lines from emails sent by the Obama reelection campaign.

As I’ve noted previously, the Obama for America campaign uses testing to increase the response rates to its online marketing. Since email subject lines are very important—they persuade people to read emails, obviously—the Obama team must take email marketing seriously.

As someone on Obama’s email list (as well as the lists of the major Republican candidates), I can tell you the subject lines get my attention.

After all, an email from “Barack Obama” with the subject line “Dinner?” is hard to ignore. (It opens an email promoting a contest for a small number of supporters to have dinner with the president—see the graphic at right.) The one with the subject, “If I don’t call you” was a letter saying the president would be calling some grassroots donors, but we should give money even if he doesn’t call us personally.

On the website Mental Floss, someone has created a quiz called Obama Campaign Email Subject or Message From My Aunt?, which includes such hard-to-guess examples as “Is this still your address?” and “This email will offend you.” I scored only a 45% — 5 out of 11 guesses correct.

Some Republican candidates get it too — Rick Santorum’s campaign has issued recent emails with the subject lines “Have you heard?” and “Stunned,” while Michelle Bachman recently sent one subject-lined “I’m Offended.”

But others are downright clumsy at this kind of marketing. The Mitt Romney and Rick Perry campaigns send messages with wonky subject lines like “My Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth” (Romney) and “Leadership Defined” (Perry).

I can only guess at the open rates for these emails, but my hunch is an email that urgently declares “I’m Offended” stands a better chance of being read than one with mellow subject line like “Leadership Defined.”

Millions of dollars in political donations will come in through email marketing. And good copywriting leads to higher open rates, which leads to more donations, which shapes the future of the republic.

Write your best every day. Our democracy depends on it.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Politics


  1. Hershele Ostropoler says:

    The human-operated secondary spam filter on my e-mail would delete some of those unread. Especially “Big things.”

  2. Goddess of Blah says:

    this is hilarious. But i shouldn’t be surprised Obama would use such tactics. To think i believed in him.

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