Are Email Autoresponders Becoming Too Aggressive?

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

Are You a Beggar or a Marketer?

Let me show you the single most annoying email I’ve received (and I receive it far too often).

Let me show you the single most annoying email I’ve received (and I receive it far too often).

Democratic Membership Status Email
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee … Desperate much?

Forget for a second that Democrat fundraisers sent me maybe a dozen messages yesterday alone, and that’s not a rare occurrence. Also forget that I’ve received dozens of this kind of email over the years. (So they sure ain’t “final.”)

Set aside that this message, on the surface, hits many of The Seven Emotional Copy Drivers (fear, greed, guilt, anger, exclusivity, salvation and flattery).

Where does any emailer get off asking for money with the vocabulary of a debt collector? “Final notice”? That reeks of desperation covered by a thin veneer of bullshit.

Emotional hot-button copy is essential for driving action. But marketing is often compared to dating, and nowhere is that truer than in the fact that desperate is not attractive. When you’re acting that desperate, solicitation turns into begging. And no one wants to do business with a beggar.

In fact, the overall impression I’ve taken from years of these kinds of fundraising efforts is that the DCCC must be losing because they tell me they’re desperate every day.

It’s not just political fundraisers who come off as beggars, either. Retailers like Jos A. Bank send me “final day” offers every day for items that have never been sold for their “regular prices.” Sometimes you see an item’s “final day” stretch on for weeks!

Jos A. Banks Sales Subject Lines
It’s not a special even if it happens every day.

I bet Jos A. Bank has binders full of evidence that those emails work. But sometimes good evidence can be misleading. You may be driving the most sales per blast, but at what cost to your reputation and long-term value proposition? Saturday Night Live has noticed.

Strong brands are not desperate. It’s fine to leverage fear, desperation, greed, salvation and more emotions in your marketing. But I really believe that begging, cajoling and threatening are mistakes.

Always step back and look at the the messages you’re sending collectively. They’re painting one of the move convincing pictures of your company, and it’s not always a flattering one.

Are you a beggar, or are you a marketer?