Are Email Autoresponders Becoming Too Aggressive?

The Future of Email Marketing

When is the line crossed between email subject lines — usually in a series of autoresponders — that provoke curiosity and prompt engagement, versus those that become aggressive and look like the sender has descended into desperation?

We all get a lot of email. Often, it’s a mystery how one gets on a list. But I suspect that over time, we all get accustomed to the daily barrage of email that we didn’t sign up for. Or if we did sign on, it may have been months (or longer) ago and have no recollection of having done so.

But, I’ve noticed a trend in recent months about email subject lines: they seem to be getting more desperate and aggressive.

Perhaps these aggressive subject line approaches have been tested and are proven to work, but they were enough to prompt me unsubscribe (without even reading the email).

A few months ago, I shared my “5 Copywriting Tips to Reduce Email Unsubscribes.” Looking at the popularity of this blog post, it’s clear that reducing unsubscribes is a hot topic. So I have to wonder if these aggressive subject lines have been tested, and unsubscribe rates monitored.

In another post, “Are Autoresponders Killing Email Marketing?,” recounted my experience of making an inquiry for a direct mail list from an automated website. I didn’t order that day, but suggested to a client that they place an order. Thankfully, they didn’t.

The next day, less than a full 24 hours after I didn’t purchase, they presented me an offer of 15 percent off my order. That seemed smart until I realized that had I ordered the day before, I would have paid full price. I would never have known because no doubt the marketing automation software would have placed me in a totally different sequence of autoresponder follow-up messages. I lost trust in that direct mail list company because while well intended, the aggressiveness of making the sale overshadowed what would have been right for the customer.

There were two comments from readers of that blog about autoresponders worth sharing:

“The balance between follow up, pestering, and offer management … strikes at the heart of the matter. The fact is that marketing automation is pulling marketers into sales roles for the first time and without deep personal engagement to guide the level of aggressiveness. The point at which sales and marketing intersect has always created friction. Marketing automation can amplify good or bad decisions for content at what is really at the top of the sales funnel, bottom of the marketing funnel.”

This reader made a great point: perhaps people who are not trained as email copywriters, and who don’t know what they’re doing, are writing these aggressive subject lines. Do they test these subject lines to know what works? Or monitor unsubscribes? Maybe aggressiveness is a business decision no matter the outcome. Or aggressive subject lines are a new normal.

Then, there was this comment:

“If your email strategy and creative is cr*p, marketing automation simply empowers you to send more cr*p, more quickly. Technology is not the problem. Bad strategy and creative is the problem.”

I’d say that comment pretty much sums it up.

Gary Hennerberg’s latest book is “Crack the Customer Mind Code: Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES!” is available on Amazon. For a free download with more detail about the seven pathways and other copywriting and consulting tips, go to

Author: Gary Hennerberg

Reinventing Direct is for the direct marketer seeking guidance in the evolving world of online marketing. Gary Hennerberg is a mind code marketing strategist, based on the template from his new book, "Crack the Customer Mind Code." He is recognized as a leading direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He weaves in how to identify a unique selling proposition to position, or reposition, products and services using online and offline marketing approaches, and copywriting sales techniques. He is sought-after for his integration of direct mail, catalogs, email marketing, websites, content marketing, search marketing, retargeting and more. His identification of USPs and copywriting for clients has resulted in sales increases of 15 percent, 35 percent, and even as high as 60 percent. Today he integrates both online and offline media strategies, and proven copywriting techniques, to get clients results. Email him or follow Gary on LinkedIn. Co-authoring this blog is Perry Alexander of ACM Initiatives. Follow Perry on LinkedIn.

One thought on “Are Email Autoresponders Becoming Too Aggressive?”

  1. Autoresponders are a pain in my………….. I hate them. They are often fraught with irrelevance and used too aggressively. When I see this, I determine that the sender doesn’t care about content or quality or service, just capturing my email.

    For this reason, I now have a separate email address for signups and if I see this desperation as you so aptly described it, I unsubscribe immediately and determine it isn’t a company I want to do business with.

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