Email Marketing Sensationalism: It's Not All It's Cracked Up To Be

    Posted by Pete Caputa on Aug 28, 2008 10:48:00 AM

    This is a guest article by Kelle Sparta of Sparta Success Systems.  

    Last week I received an email containing a link to Frank Kern's video on The Rubberneck Effect in marketing online.  I watched the video and decided to try out the premise.  So I immediately sent out a letter to my mailing list with the same subject line ("bad news...") that he had suggested.  What I found was very interesting. 

    I found that my open rate did increase rather dramatically, in fact almost twice as many people opened the email as normally do (27.9% vs. my normal 13%-15%).  And the percentage click through rate (the number of people who clicked on any given link) was about average for any mailing - which means about twice as many people as normal clicked through overall since twice as many opened it.  But my opt-outs (people who asked to be removed from the mailing list) were more than double (0.7% as opposed to my normal 0.3%). 

    I also included access to a free 10-part audio training on my real estate training website (this was my real estate list that I sent this out to).  I got a 32.6% click through rate and 55.8% of those who clicked through actually signed up for the auto responder program with the training.  That's better than any other free item I've ever offered. 

    In looking back at my open rates, I realized that only one email I've sent out has come close to these statistics.  Interestingly, it was the one I sent on Valentines Day this year with the subject line "You Are Loved".  I can't compare click-through rates for you since I did this email as a pure deposit in the emotional bank account of my readers and didn't ask for any sales or even offer any links on the page.  Interestingly, the opt-out rate was still only 0.3% which is average for a mailing for me.  Although none of the people who opted out reported me as spam whereas 4 people reported me on the "bad news..." mailing.

    So it would seem that telling someone they are loved is just as attractive as indicating there is bad news.  But there's more to the story.  The text of the Valentines email was:

    "I just wanted to drop you a quick note to let you know how much I love and appreciate you. 

    Happy Valentine's Day.

    Love always,
    -Kelle Sparta"

    Well, I got a large amount of emails back from this message.  About half were positive and expressed appreciation in return or gave thanks for the message.  The other half of the respondents were angry and/or skeptical asking how I could possibly claim to love someone I hadn't met.  It was a controversial subject and clearly divided respondents into two very disparate camps. 

    In contrast, I received only three emails from the "bad news..." email.  One had also gotten the link to Frank Kern's video the same day and was impressed with the speed of implementation that I showed and amused to see it arrive in her mailbox.  Another emailed me to thank me for the article from the previous week and to tell me she had forwarded it to a friend who was in need of help in dealing with her fears.  And a third came from Peter Caputa, a friend and fellow internet marketer, who said that he had felt a little betrayed when he saw the inside vs. the subject line.  He felt I might end up with the "boy who cried wolf" syndrome if I wasn't careful about how often I used these messages.  (And I agree with him.)  But there were no angry messages from my actual customers. 

    So, I think I can conclude from this two things about open rates:

    1. Sensationalism certainly does increase open rates. The Rubberneck Effect as described by Frank Kern does work - after all, a 27.9% open rate with a 54.5% click through to watch the video certainly doesn't suck.
    2. Positive, emotionally charged comments that are out of the box also work though. "You Are Loved" returned a 25.2% open rate - not quite as good as "bad news..." but certainly not shabby in the overall mix of things. Whether the click-throughs will be equivalent with the positive message to those in the negative one, I can't say yet. I'll test that next.

    And, sadly, I think I can also conclude that we are more open to hearing that something has gone wrong than we are that someone loves and appreciates us. 

    So, for now, I think I'll go back to my pattern of talking about the positives.  Perhaps I'll start looking at the emotional content of my subject lines a little more to keep my readers intrigued more often.  But, thankfully, I think I can leave the sensationalism behind in favor of a more positive approach.  (Which is really what I wanted to do anyway.)

    Kelle Sparta is The Business Shaman and Consciousness Consultant to corporations and small businesses. Kelle is the founder of Sparta Success Systems, a consulting and coaching company that provides tools, products, and training to empower business owners, managers and employees to create lives and businesses they can love. For more information, visit her website at

    Topics: email marketing

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