Creating Email Subject Lines Is Like Picking a Good Bottle of Wine

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Do you think creating intriguing email subject lines is easy or hard? While you decide, take a look at this link:

Here’s something that might help you be more productive.

Did you click on that link above? If so, why?

You probably clicked on it because it came off as conversational with just a bit of intrigue. It didn’t come off as advertorial, which is often disruptive when placed within a piece of content.

Even if it wasn’t super relevant or didn’t connect with you immediately, it was probably still suggestive enough to elicit a bit of interest.

Email Subject Lines and Bottles of Wine

An email subject line is like the label on a bottle of wine. You more or less know what’s going to happen when you uncork the bottle and you have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen when you drink it. However, your decision to purchase wine is often determined by which label appeals to you the most.

In fact, 46% of consumers cite packaging as the driving factor behind their purchasing decision when it comes to wine. Compare that to 35% of email recipients who admit to opening emails based solely on the subject line.

Unless you already have a preference or you’re going on the recommendation of a friend... if you’re already at the store, the only means of differentiating between similar wines is what’s on the label.

A Little Exercise

Let’s pretend you know nothing about wine and you’ve been tasked with buying a bottle for a get-together this evening. You’re at the store and there are only four bottles of wine. The labels are as follows:

  1. A plain white label with red block letters that say “DRY RED WINE”. No other information is given except that it’s red and has an ABV of 13.5%.

  2. An overlaid label on a translucent blue bottle that simply says RELAX. It has a clearly written description on the back explaining possible food pairings. According to a spectrum on the label, you notice this wine is labeled as “Medium Sweet.”

  3. A black label with a Gothic aesthetic that says “Apothic Red” that encourages drinking from wine lovers who love “layers of dark red fruit complemented by hints of vanilla and mocha.” You also notice it’s a blend of four different wines, and the branding is just as dark as the bottle.

  4. A gold label with an elegant-sounding French name. The label is written in French, but upon closer inspection, you see that the grapes were harvested in California. You also notice that this wine is priced at $7.

Which wine would you choose?

Decisions, Decisions…

If you’re like me, you’d skip all four wines and go straight for the Woodford Reserve.

But if you absolutely had to buy a bottle of wine, something tells me you’re most likely going for either options 2 or 3.

Without knowing anything about wine, you’re probably not going to opt for a straightforward label, unless you know it’s exactly what you want.

And even though you’re a novice when it comes to wine, you probably know that fancy French wines don’t usually run at $7 per bottle.

Mailchimp says  the best email subject lines describe what’s in the email, without a hard sell. Conversational and mysterious emails do a great job of enticing you to engage without overselling the contents, which is probably why you went with either the 2nd or the 3rd option.

Email subject lines might not get you drunk (unless you’re really into email marketing), but there are many parallels we can draw between those bottles above and these subject lines below.


"Last chance to claim your 15% discount!"

When you use a straightforward email subject line, the user doesn’t need to open the email. These tend to be dry and dull, but can be effective if you have nothing to say in your email.

Similar to the white label that says “DRY RED WINE,” what you see is what you get.


“Thanks for purchasing from us! We’d love to hear about your experience.”

This is when your email is still relevant, but a little bit more relaxed and conversational in tone. These tend to be a bit friendlier and a bit warmer in general, without much of a sense of urgency. These work great if you already have some kind of relationship with your customer and have something relevant to offer.

Like RELAX Riesling, this gives enough away while still leaving the door open for an interaction from the recipient.


“You’re wasting marketing dollars and you don’t even realize it.”

One of the best ways to get your customers to open your email is with a mysterious subject line that creates a sense of urgency. Subject lines that create a sense of urgency can give a 22% higher open rate.

If you don’t look at the sender, this email could be from anyone about anything related to marketing spend.

Mysterious email subject lines are enticing and alluring, but run the risk of falling flat if you don’t deliver something useful. Similar to Apothic Red, there’s an aura around the subject line without hiding behind anything.


“Re: Your Copywriters Account.”

These aren’t necessarily misleading, but they tell a different story.

Emails that begin with “Re:” are usually in response to something that was sent previously. A customer might be more likely to open an email from a person they believe they’re already engaging with.

Much like the California wine with a French name, the subject line is playfully misleading without being dishonest or disruptive.

This tactic could be rewarding, or it could backfire. It could easily “trick” the customer into opening your email, generating higher open rates. But customers are smart enough to eventually figure out that you’re trying to play them in a way.

Or, the customer might actually enjoy the taste of the wine, in which case they’ll feel like they’ve uncovered a hidden gem at a bargain price.

In many ways, the email subject line is more important than the email itself. Much like a wine shop, sometimes, the hardest part is just getting customers through the door.

Read Through Rates

Can you name 5 companies that send you marketing emails, but you’ve never once opened them?

I can name about 20 different companies that send me emails every week that I’ve never opened because I’m too lazy to unsubscribe.

In email marketing, we often talk about open rates and click-through rates. But, one metric that we often ignore (because it doesn’t really exist) is one that I’m going to make up right now called “read-through rate.” This measures how often a user reads a subject line along with who sent it before they ultimately delete it.

Do not underestimate the power of this. The user is still engaging in some kind of activity with the email, even if it’s just a matter of impression. Sending an email to the trash bin still counts as some kind of engagement.

Brand Recall

I was recently at a marketing conference and came across an expo from a company that sends me emails several times a week. I deleted every single one and I had no idea what they did, but that was, ironically, what sparked my interest in them to begin with. I recognized the brand.

After speaking with them for a few minutes, I’m now trialing their software. It paid off for them. All without me reading anything besides the subject line. 

And for wine drinkers, sometimes all you need is a catchy label.


Have you ever tried to pick a bottle of wine from a huge selection? If you don't know your wines, then it might be tricky to pick one from just the label. Email subject lines are like wine labels. Your words are the difference between whether your email gets opened or tossed in the trash.

Copywriters are experts at creating enticing "wine labels" for your email. Contact us to hire a copywriter for your next email campaign.

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