As far as marketing best practices go, I’m a bit of a purist who subscribes to “playing by the rules” when it comes to subject lines. Lately, I’ve been surprised by how many emails I’ve received with symbols in the subject lines. I asked around the office and my coworkers concurred they were experiencing the same. Which begs the question: Does cute ✈ when it comes to email subject lines or should marketers ✂ them out of the mix?

Here are a few things to consider before you try adding symbols to your email subject lines:

Do symbols make sense for your business?

Because of the novelty and cute factor that comes with using symbols, they aren’t for everyone. If you own a flower shop, inserting a flower icon in your subject line may make total sense both to the subject matter and your audience. However, if you’re a law firm, or a funeral home, you should most likely not use symbols in your subject lines.

Here’s an example from my inbox that arrived from Pottery Barn Kids:


The symbol in this case perfectly fits a brand that sells children’s clothing and furnishing items. Being playful and cute is totally appropriate. The heart symbol is also simple and makes sense in the subject line. In this case they’ve replaced the word ‘love’ with the heart so it still reads properly.

Hearts and stars are, not surprisingly, the most frequently used special characters. I can imagine as summer moves along we’ll see more suns, and with back-to-school the addition of symbols like pencils and books. Fall will bring leaves and pumpkins, and maybe a few spiders or cats; and as winter rolls in, be on the lookout for an onslaught of snowmen and snowflakes on your inboxes’ subject lines.

Another example comes from Sublime Stitching:

In this case, the symbols don’t compliment the message as much, and start to feel a bit spammy in my honest opinion. If you’re going to use symbols, remember the rule of less is more. Limit the use to 1 or 2 at most in your subject line or risk having your message feel less than professional.

Not all symbols are created (or render) the same.

Many email clients, such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! support Unicode symbols. However, just like the email clients listed above, your messages may render differently on varying mobile devices including the Big 3: Android, BlackBerry and iPhone.

From the Pottery Barn Kids example above, here’s how the subject line looked on my MacBook:


And here’s how it appeared in my Gmail inbox on my iPhone:


See the subtle difference? Test your emails before you launch them and view in different email clients and devices. Try a service like Email on Acid which will show you 48 variations.

Use symbols for a reason. Not just to “use symbols.” 

Special characters or symbols can be used in three different ways: 

  1. As a separator or punctuation (i.e. Thanks for signing up! ★ Download your free guide)
  2. To replace a word (like the heart in the Pottery Barn Kids example).
  3. As a decorative or design element (as in the Sublime Stitching example)

Want to try using special characters or symbols in your own subject lines? I used these simple directions from wikiHow: How to Make Symbols on a Mac.

I’d love to hear what you think about using symbols in subject lines. Share your feedback in the comments!

© 2012 – 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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