VerticalResponse Blog

Want a surefire way to engage your subscribers and get them to open your emails? Make ’em laugh. A humorous subject line is a great motivator.

So, how do you write funny subject lines? Since hiring Amy Schumer or John Oliver is probably out of the question, you’ll have to channel your own inner comedian. Don’t worry; we’ll help you find your funny bone. We have four tips that will make it easier to create chuckle-worthy subject lines. But, before we start, here are some funny subject lines to use as inspiration:

  • OpenTable: Licking your phone never tasted so good
  • Chubbies: Cruisin’ for a jacuzzin’
  • Travelocity: Need a day at the beach? Just scratch n’ sniff your way to paradise…
  • Dollar Flight Club: You entered the giveaway! We love you
  • Old Navy: It’s official: you CAN wear white (no stain stick required)
  • Uniqlo: “Is that new? I love it!” – Everyone
  • Bright Cellars: Heads up! We created a newsletter for winos just like you.
  • Groupon: Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve)
  • Eater Boston: Where to Drink Beer Right Now (Sent at 6:45 am on a Wednesday)
  • Fabletics: Your Butt Will Look Great in These Workout Pants
  • Taco Bell: Keep your pants on! We’re revealing our new Naked Chicken Chalupa NOW.
  • UrbanDaddy: You’ve Changed
  • Influitive: So I’ll pick you up at 7?
  • BloomThat: Better than a pumpkin spice latte!
  • Petco: This email is littered with options
  • The Bold Italic: Just Pho You: Where to Eat SF’s Best Pho
  • Sur La Table: Can We Cut In? Top-Rated Knives up to 60% off
  • The Muse: We Like Being Used
  • BuzzFeed: Yes, We’re Still Talking About Kim Kardashian’s Butt
  • Groupon: There are no deals in this email
  • Warby Parker: Pairs nicely with spreadsheets
  • The Hustle: Oh boix, La Croix
  • NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences: Show Us Yours and We’ll Show You Ours
  • Baby Bump: Yes, I’m Pregnant. You Can Stop Staring At My Belly Now.
  • Benefit Cosmetics: Do you like to watch?

Tips for writing amusing subject lines:

1. Connect things that don’t go together

To get subscribers to crack a smile and click open on your email, try combining two things that may not necessarily fit together. The “Pairs nicely with spreadsheets” subject line from Warby Parker is a good example. Try to combine your product or service with something out of the ordinary. For example, an online retailer could connect hip trends to the older generation. A subject line like, “10 trendy styles even your grandmother thinks are on fire,” could get a smile from your readers and encourage customers of all generations to open your email.

2. Use movies and song titles

Draw inspiration from movie quotes, song titles and infamous TV or internet moments. Think of movies that relate to your business or famous quotes that you could incorporate into your subject line. For example, a dating service could reference the movie title “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” in a subject line. A spa or salon could weave in the movie title “Inside Out.” A landscaping business could reference the online game Angry Birds. A local pub could use “Seinfeld”‘s Kramer quote, “These pretzels are makin’ me thirsty.”

3. Keep an eye on celebrity happenings

If you’re not into celebrity gossip, we won’t force you to read tabloids. But celebrities are always good for a faux pas here and there. From fashion fails on the red carpet to whatever the Kardashians are currently up to, Hollywood can provide material for a subject line or two.

4. Be blunt

Sometimes stating the obvious is funny. People tend to skirt some issues and sugarcoat others to avoid hurt feelings. But it’s okay to be brutally honest on occasion, as long it’s appropriate for your business. The subject line from WorkLife, “Everyone Hates The Boss. Learn How to Smile Through It,” is a good example.

Try something similar with your business. For example, a restaurant could say, “We promise not to ask how it tastes when your mouth is full.” Accountants can play up how awful paying taxes is by referencing the famous Ben Franklin quote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” An auto repair service can talk about running on empty. Tell your audience the brutal truth and explain how your business can help.

A few words of caution

Humorous subject lines have a lot of benefits, but there are a few rules you’ll want to stick to.

Don’t be offensive

If you take a joke too far, you can offend your audience. If you think your subject line is borderline offensive, don’t send it. Since humor is subjective, it’s always a good idea to run your subject line by another colleague to make sure you’re not crossing the line. Also, politics are risky and divisive. Political humor may alienate a segment of your audience, so use extreme caution here.

Don’t stray from your company’s voice

You’ve worked hard to create a voice and tone for your brand. That voice can certainly have a dash of humor, but don’t stray too far. Keep your voice true to your brand.

Know your audience

Where do your customers live? How old are they? Do they skew male or female? Knowing this demographic information can give you a good idea of which cultural references will land and which terms to use.

Humor is just another tool

As always, you want your email content and subject lines to be diverse. In other words, you don’t have to make your contacts laugh with every email. While humor is a powerful tool, consider it one more tactic to have in your marketing toolbox — not something you have to use every time.

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2016 and has been revised and updated for accuracy and relevance.

© 2019, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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