The use of emojis—those little digital icons representing everything from sushi and sailboats to infinite variations on the smiley face—has become part of everyday life. 

Marketers, however, have been hesitant to incorporate them into email campaigns, due to uncertainty about how their use may be perceived by both mailbox providers and subscribers.

Now, new research from Return Path reveals that emojis can be a useful addition to an email marketer’s toolkit. 

Released in Australia last week, Emoji Use in Email Subject Lines looks at emoji use in email campaigns around significant holidays and seasons over the course of a year, and compares them against traditional text-only subject lines.

According to report findings, subject lines containing emojis actually saw a higher read rate than comparable text-only subject lines in some cases. Emoji use generally had limited impact on inbox placement rate, either positive or negative.

Following are some examples:

  • Around Valentine’s Day, email subject lines including the “lips” emoji drove a read rate of 24 per cent and an inbox placement rate of 89 per cent. By comparison, Valentine’s Day promotions with text-only subject lines had a read rate of just 20 percent and inbox placement of 83 per cent. 
  • Father’s Day emails with the “wrench” emoji in the subject line had a read rate of 22 per cent and inbox placement of 96 per cent, compared to read rate and inbox placement rate of 21 per cent and 88 per cent respectively for comparable text-only promotions.

But not all emojis proved to be so effective. The “clinking champagne glasses” emoji in New Year’s promotions had just a nine per cent read rate and 38 per cent inbox placement rate, far below the average for traditional text-only New Year’s emails. 

“Emojis definitely stand out in a crowded inbox, and grabbing the reader’s attention is an important element of email engagement,” said Tom Sather, Return Path’s Sr. Director of Research.

“There aren’t a lot of email marketers using them today, so there’s a novelty factor involved.”

While that novelty factor is difficult to quantify in an aggregated research report, anecdotal evidence points to a sharp drop off in engagement metrics after repeated emoji use.

“What works one time may not work every time. My advice to an email marketer who wants to try using emojis is to use our findings as a starting point for testing their own campaigns,” said Sather.

He said every brand needs to find its own voice and understand its unique audience. There’s no magic formula to using emojis, or any other aspect of an email campaign.

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