Funny Email Subject Lines That Will Skyrocket Your Open Rates

Funny Email Subject Lines That Will Skyrocket Your Open Rates
07 November, 2023 • ... • 643 views
Sara Kurczyńska
by Sara Kurczyńska

With a sea of emails flooding people’s inboxes daily, how to ensure your email doesn’t drown in the deluge? Well-crafted email subject lines are the key to grabbing attention. But for the most part, those perfect email subject ideas stick to the professional tone. This leaves you little room for creativity and jokes — and begs for a creative twist.

Funny email subject lines have an oddly refreshing charm. They can surprise your prospects, boost your open rates, and leave them eagerly anticipating your next email. But how do you deliver good results while making jokes? Read on and see for yourself!

Why a good email subject line is important

First impressions matter, and in the world of emails, it begins with your subject line. It’s a small yet powerful conduit into the context of your email that can make or break your email open rate.

People don’t waste their time on opening an email that doesn’t instantly promise value. The value isn’t always excellent deals, time-sensitive offers, or groundbreaking news about the products you’re working on. Sometimes, the value comes in the form of a well-phrased joke. It sets your business apart from the faceless corporate monotony and creates a sense of bond and loyalty.

A good joke, unless it’s forced, can humanize your brand, bring it closer to the audience, and strengthen your relationship. Therefore, the best email subject line doesn’t just grab attention or spike interest in your product. It establishes your brand’s voice and resonates with your audience.

Oracle reports that 91% of people prefer brands that are funny. So, don’t be afraid to infuse your subject lines with a genuine sense of humor.

Types of funny subject lines that work

Let’s take a closer look at some of the best funny subject line examples to better rivet your grasp of their use. After all, sometimes it’s best to learn directly from those who have succeeded. So, we’ll try to extract the underlying principles you could apply to your email marketing strategies.

Emotion-triggered subject lines

One great tactic in copywriting is emotion-triggered texts. As the name suggests, these capitalize on the power of emotions to draw your reader in. They range from in-depth to light-hearted, and yes, funny email subject forms.

For instance, you may use a tongue-in-cheek confession that invokes feelings of surprise and curiosity. A good example could be something like, “Yes, we’re being clingy, but we have something special for you”. This humorous switch can instantly brighten the reader’s day. It might even make them create a mental connection between your brand and their positive mood.

If you want to get a little more edgy, look at what Tradlands did with their email. The counterintuitive call to action in the subject line can surprise, make your audience chuckle — and make them click to open the email. Just make sure to match the energy in the email copy.

From: Tradlands

Subject: “Don’t buy this dress”

A part of a promotional email with an attention grabbing headline “We’ve heard some complaints about our fall collection”
Source: Milled

Pun-based subject lines

Puns and wordplay can create an easeful connection with your brand’s customers. They’re often used in holiday campaigns — for example, dad jokes are a common theme for Father’s Day emails

Puns in email subject lines are effective because if they’re bad, you can still turn them into a win — and make those bad jokes a part of your brand identity. NYX Professional Makeup did just that with their spin on the 2018 meme catchphrase.

From: NYX Professional Makeup

Subject: Big THICK energy

A promotional email from NYX with a tagline “Brows with big thick energy”
Source: Milled

Not every audience will like that. However, being the brand with the worst puns is still a way to mark your territory in your business niche, or even among the general public. You’ll certainly stand out in every email box cluttered with generic sales promotions!

Pop culture-related subject lines

Pop culture references work well in funny email subject lines because they utilize shared knowledge, creating an “in-joke” that fosters a feeling of community and shared sentiment between your business and customers. These include references to movie premieres, recent memes, popular songs, and so on. You can even play on TikTok trends — like in this email from Our Place.

From: Our Place

Subject: From girl dinner…

A part of a promotional email with a reference to the “girl dinner” TikTok trend
Source: Really Good Emails

You don’t have to be chronically online to make pop culture references though. This type of humor works even if you don’t hop on every single fad. For example, you can create funny email subjects based on famous movies, popular songs, or well-known commercials. “You’ve been hit by — you’ve been hit by a smooth aftershave” could have your subscribers singing before they even realize it’s also a terrible pun.

However, it’s crucial to learn the difference between “classic” and “outdated”. For example, referencing the Barbie movie half a year after it was released is bad. Talking about pineapple pens ten years after the infamous song became a viral hit (and imploded soon after) is on a whole new level of confusing your recipients.

FOMO, emojis, pain points…

“If 👏 you’re 👏 happy 👏 and 👏 you 👏 know 👏 it, 👏 grab 👏 our 👏 merch” — a funny subject line that looks more like a meme-style chant than anything else. It’s all about catching your audience off guard with a clever twist of a classic song and a realistic clapping emoji. Sure, this is more of a one-off idea than a go-to solution. Still, it shows how you can leverage internet culture and drive the click-through rates with surprising and funny email subjects.

As we mentioned before, most people don’t want your emails. They want value. So why not generate this value with something playing on their FOMO — but jokingly? “Have you connected your Samsung Smart Fridge with our CRM yet?” might not be the funniest subject line you’ve heard, but it’s definitely a great subject line to drop when there’s buzz around smart appliances on social media again.

Or maybe you can mock a pain point or current issues. For example, in 2020, many companies temporarily changed their logos to promote social distancing due to COVID-19.

Altered logos of McDonalds, Volkswagen, and other companies with more white space between elements designed to represent social distancing
Source: Bloomberg

Just make sure you don’t say something insensitive and downplay the real issues your customers might be facing. Here’s an example that could’ve gone wrong but didn’t.

From: Cards Against Humanity

Subject: Your state sucks

A text-based email from Cards Against Humanity speaking about a controversial issue
Source: Milled

Cards Against Humanity hit the right spot with the subject “Your State Sucks” right after a controversial decision of the US government. It is intended to make you chuckle (as their emails often do) but it still takes a serious stance on the issue.

Applying humor: The dos and don’ts

Enough theory, let’s talk about how you can apply this to your own brand. To help you move in the right direction, we’ve prepared a list of dos and don’ts with everything you need to know.

👍 DO: Know your audience

It’s crucial when it comes to funny email subject lines: you need to know what you can, and what you cannot joke about. The rule of thumb is to always respect your audience’s feelings, culture, beliefs, and sense of humor. You want to make them laugh, not angry or upset.

Of course, jokes based on things like skin color or religion are out of the question. But even seemingly harmless jokes might stir negative emotions within your audience. For example, a light-hearted joke about women in tech could actually perpetuate harmful stereotypes and paint your company as inconsiderate.

Before you send out emails with your funny subject line, try looking at it from different perspectives. And if you have doubts, it would be wise to err on the side of caution and come up with something else. There’s so much stuff to joke about anyway!

👎 DON’T: Overuse the same jokes

Reiterating a successful punchline over and over might seem like a foolproof and time-saving strategy. But it will make your readers roll their eyes every time they see your email in their inbox. This is what could potentially happen with FilterEasy’s mailing strategy. Their funny email subject sounds good but it’s a rather easy joke you may overuse unintentionally.

From: FilterEasy

Subject: Oops: Someone Hadn’t Had Their Coffee Yet This Morning

A short email explaining accidental emails sent out a few hours prior
Source: Really Good Emails

A running gag you refer to every now and then is fine, especially if you also use it outside email subject lines. But the same joke formula in every email subject will look uncreative and inauthentic — and it will beg for revising your email marketing strategy.

👍 DO: Track your metrics

Incorporating humor into your email subject lines is not a guessing game. Your tracking software should be your trusted partner in determining what works best. Use metrics like open rates, click-through rates, and unsubscribe rates to get feedback about your strategies. For example, raising unsubscribe rates could help you see the boundaries you definitely shouldn’t cross again, while low open rates can serve as an indicator that you might need to improve your jokes or their delivery.

Through the right analysis of your audience’s response, you can refine the balance between humor and promotion. With time and testing, you’ll begin to identify what kind of humor resonates the most with your audience — and how to use these insights to bolster your open rates.

👎 DON’T: Overthink your open rates

While keeping track of how well your emails perform is great, there’s a trap. Remember, email marketing is an ongoing process. It’s not a single email with an unusually low open rate that will push your business downhill. It’s more about the general trend.

It might be tempting to check the metrics of every single funny email subject — because how else would you know which ones your recipients found funny? In reality though, there are a lot more factors affecting your email open rates. The timing of your email, its recurrence, conflicts with other emails… The list goes on.

What to do instead? There isn’t a silver bullet but it is generally better to focus on broader email marketing automation strategies and track trends after you implement funny email subject lines. And remember, the ultimate goal isn’t to become the funniest sender out there. It’s to use humor as a tool to achieve your business goals.

👍 DO: Refer to relevant memes

There’s no cultural element that encapsulates the essence of the internet quite like memes. Tapping into the meme culture can help you boost open rates. It can make your audience feel included in an exclusive community built around shared humor. It also brings a personal touch to your business image.

We already mentioned the “girl dinner” trend on TikTok — here’s another email referencing it.

From: Girlboss

Subject: 💌 Girl dinner is served

A fragment of a promotional email using a meme-like picture.
Source: Milled

Goofy images, absurdist humor, TikTok audios or parodies of popular series, memes hold a great potential as a means of engagement. Don’t sleep on it!

👎 DON’T: Refer to old memes

Some memes get old very fast, some thrive for years, and your job is to know the difference. The world of meme culture spins at hyper speed. Today’s viral joke may be considered boomer humor tomorrow, and you definitely want to avoid that — even if you’re targeting actual baby boomers.

Here’s an example of what you shouldn’t do — for example, refer to the meme that quotes a reality show that was popular 20 years ago.

Screenshot of a tweet by Norton VPN quoting the “Yo dawg” catchphrase from the reality show “Pimp My Ride”
Source: Ruin My Week

👍 DO: Be genuine in your subject lines

Authenticity is crucial. Your subscribers follow you because they connect with your brand’s personality. While you can learn from others’ successful strategies, it’s essential to tailor the approach to align with your brand’s core values and maintain a consistent tone. Don’t just add humor because it’s trendy or fun — use it when it helps you communicate your brand’s story in a more engaging way.

A well-placed funny subject can lighten the mood, show your company’s human side, and build trust. But remember, it shouldn’t feel forced or out of context. Let your humor flow naturally into your content, maintaining the fine balance between being professional and inviting.

👎 DON’T: Use jokes as a distraction from the email content

Jokes, in a way similar to email personalization techniques, may make your email enticing enough to open. However, if the content gives no value to the subscriber it could result in an unsubscribe instead of a conversion. It’s important to recognize that although humor can help increase your open rates, ultimately, what matters is the quality and relevance of the content you’re delivering.

Nothing leaves a bad taste quite like an email loaded with humor that has nothing of substance to offer. It’s like opening a beautifully wrapped present only to find nothing inside. Make sure to at least follow up the funny headline in the email body.

👍 DO: Experiment with different email subjects

Even if your first few attempts at funny email subjects didn’t quite land, don’t let that discourage you. Comedy isn’t always straightforward, often what one person finds hilarious leaves another person flat. Similarly, what works phenomenally for one brand might not be as effective for another.

The key to crafting great subject lines is experimenting. Test out different tones, joke structures, and timing until you find what hits home with your particular audience. Here’s an interesting example from Surreal.

From: Surreal

Subject: Want your face on a billboard?

A promotional email from an apparel store.
Source: Really Good Emails

👎 DON’T: Lose sight of your business goals

While all these dos and don’ts are essential, you need to ensure that your email marketing efforts are still aligned with your business goals. Sprinkling humor into your subject lines can be an effective way to drive engagement. However, it shouldn’t be done at the expense of losing sight of why you’re sending emails in the first place.

It doesn’t matter how fun or funny your email subject lines might be. If they’re not converting to revenue, higher subscription rates, or better customer engagement, then they’re not doing their job.

So by all means, have fun and experiment with humor and funny email subjects, but keep it as a side dish to complement your primary business strategy meal.

But my brand is serious!

The fun of your subject lines should align with your overall brand image. What if your brand personality is on the formal side of the spectrum?

It still doesn’t mean that funny subject lines are off the table for serious brands. Let’s try to break down how this could work.

You still can add fun to your business image

Is humor in B2B marketing out of question? Definitely not! Numerous SaaS and other brands with neutral and respectful voices have done funny campaigns. One of our favorites is Zendesk Alternative. This CRM company created the whole website dedicated to a fake grunge band called Zendesk Alternative that collaborated with the actual Zendesk to write a song about customer service. These guys even throw F-bombs in the video!

Shooting a short film and building a new website is risky and labor-intensive. But you can start small and add a touch of brand-appropriate humor to an email subject, depending on the industry and your initial tone of voice.

Of course it’s easier if your brand’s tone of voice is already informal. When the distance between you and your subscribers is shorter, you can cement it with a self-deprecating joke or a funny reference to a bad review. All in all, any business can have fun — you only need to know what kind of fun fits the best.

You can find email subject jokes that land

Knowing what suits your brand’s image is one thing, finding email subject line jokes that land is another. We’re not here to discuss comedy, otherwise, this article would be a lot longer. But we know how to help you find great subject lines with your marketing automation and management software.

One thing that can help you find out what works is A/B testing. Start by incorporating different types of humor into your email subjects and track the metrics. The reports from your A/B testing software could serve as a good laugh-o-meter.

Over time, you will see the patterns and learn what kind of humor works best for your email marketing. You can also implement this tactic in your social media marketing and have an even better insight into what works and what doesn’t. Just make sure you don’t share something in bad taste.

Funny subject lines don’t have to contain jokes

Humor in email subject lines doesn’t always imply wowing your audience with punchlines. Sometimes, amusing references to current events or a simply unexpected subject line can do the trick.

For example, there isn’t anything inherently funny in a subject line like “I’m sorry I haven’t emailed you in a while.” However, it can be if this is for an email you send to someone who has canceled a subscription to your service.

It takes time and creativity but it’s well worth it. People generally value cleverness and authenticity over a forced knee-slapper, especially if put in the right context. So, review your current email marketing approach and see where you can smuggle in a little something to tickle your audience’s funny bone.

Summing up

Funny email subject lines can do a lot for your email engagement and conversions. Yet, crafting genuinely funny email subjects can prove a bit more difficult than it seems. Should you go with puns, pop references, or maybe develop a running gag for your marketing campaign?

One thing is sure: you shouldn’t go blind into using humor in your emails:

  • Know what is funny for your audience — and what could potentially be offensive!
  • Don’t rely on the same jokes if you don’t want to bore your recipients.
  • Track your metrics to assess your email performance…
  • … but there is a lot more going on with emails, so take even the most complex tracking with a grain of salt.
  • Refer to pop culture to make your brand more relatable…
  • …but don’t refer to old memes that everyone has already forgotten about.
  • Be genuine in your humor, forced jokes are easy to spot!
  • Your funny subject lines should not distract your recipients from the rest of your emails.
  • Experiment with various forms of comedy in email subjects to find the type that resonates with your recipients the most.
  • Don’t let funny subjects take over your email marketing focus — it is just a tool that has to serve your business goals.

Follow these tips and your subscribers will look like this when they open your emails:

Gideon from Gravity Falls rolling on the floor laughing
Source: Giphy
07 November, 2023
Article by
Sara Kurczyńska
Sara Kurczyńska is an experienced content writer from Poznań, Poland. She enjoys writing about digital marketing, as well as playing video games and petting her fancy rats. In her spare time, you can find her birdwatching and taking long walks around the local parks and forests.
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