Mid-Month Email Menagerie

Jim Davidson, Head of Research

Author Bio

As an expert in email, mobile and social strategies, Jim brings over 15 years of experience in online marketing, managing email and cross-channel programs for top retail clients. From strategic vision to implementation, Jim has led clients to successfully meet aggressive revenue and performance goals. As Bronto's Head of Research, he regularly publishes industry-focused white papers, research reports and contributes to the Bronto blog. His articles can be found in publications such as DMNews, ClickZ, Total Retail and Multichannel Merchant. He has also spoken at numerous industry events, including IRCE, eTail East, eTail Canada, MarketLive Summit and Magento Imagine, and has been featured in Forbes, USAToday and NPR’s Marketplace.

I open over 4,000 emails each month. I also click in each one of them.


This carpal-tunnel inducing activity results in the data I use for various reports including my monthly Email Marketing Trend reports. While I can never get enough data, I realized I view and interact with a lot of friggin’ emails every month, so perhaps I should write something about them. In the slurry of “Free Shipping,” “20% Off,” “Last Day,” and “Hours Left!!!” it takes a lot to earn my double-take and get labeled in the report.  

The purpose of this menagerie, a collection of clever, curious or catastrophic emails from the past 30 days, is to serve as a reference of the best emails in the industry and those that could be improved.  Read about new tactics that you should test in your own programs and others that you should avoid.  A selection will be included here on the Bronto Blog and you can also download the full Mid-Month Email Menagerie report. This report covers the following categories:

  • Behold the Fold: Eye-catching use of the above the fold area of an email
  • Promotions, Processes, and Peeves: Interesting promotions, various subscriber experiences, and personal annoyances
  • Composition Exhibition: Designs that standout not always for the right reasons
  • Animation Station: Various uses of animated gifs in emails

Compliments and critiques represent my opinion only.  Click below to download the full Mid-Month Email Menagerie

Behold the Fold

Models, background, and copy rarely combine strategic forces to optimize the above-the-fold area. Well, break out the tiara and sashes because Levi’s wins Couple of the Month with these two emails. The email on the left shows a couple holding hands while pulling away from each other under the line “Last Chance.” As you scroll, the offer is revealed in a narrowing space between the models. The email on the right shows the same couple mid-hair flip. This one definitely caught my attention though the “Seize the Moment” copy was a bit low to the fold to make a solid one-two punch. 

Levi's Effective Above the FoldLevi's Effective Above the Fold 2










ShopNBC Above the Fold Feet

Feet!  There’s no way around that being your first impression of this ShopNBC email. Perhaps this was done for shock value, but the large foot in my face when I opened this email did not make me want to explore the rest of the message.  Guess this is one way to promote a callus remover!  While a shocking graphic can drive engagement, going too extreme could result in a negative reaction.  Testing images that may turn off part of your audience will help you determine how far you can safely go.



Promotions, Processes, and Peeves

American Apparel Print-Shop Contest

Yes, emails drive sales but not every email needs to promote products and offers.  Subscriber engagement not only helps fight list attrition but can also have a positive impact on email deliverability.  This example from American Apparel asked subscribers to submit a design that, if selected, would be printed on their products.  The subscriber would even get paid for a winning design.  This type of contest has the potential to increase brand awareness by having the contest participants spread the word about their submission. Check out “8 Key Ways to Keep Subscribers Engaged,” by Kristen Gregory, Bronto’s Director of Marketing Services.


Things Remembered Social Day Email

Most emails contain some form of social CTA.  It could be liking a product, the email, or the brand.  Perhaps it’s sharing the content or becoming a fan or follower.  A pet peeve of mine is how many of these calls-to-action are bland logos that set no expectation of what will happen after the link is clicked.  Needless to say, when a brand sets those expectations or takes it up a notch and dedicates an entire email to social networks, it really catches my attention.  On “Social Media Day,” Things Remembered communicated the value of joining their Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter communities.  An email dedicated to joining social networks can also be effective as part of a welcome series for new subscribers.  Check out a few “Top Tips for an Email Welcome Series.”




(view full sized)

Composition Exhibition

unbranded email

This email from… well, you can’t really tell who sent this one, can you?  I will say that this brand usually does include clear branding in their emails but for some reason this email lacked any branding reference.  While a mega-clearance event and limited quantities may entice subscribers to click, make sure you provide a consistent customer experience in your communications.  This doesn’t mean elements can’t vary but extreme shifts could lead to subscriber confusion and unsubscriptions and potentially spam complaints.



Animation Station

I’m a fan of animated images in an email if they are visually compelling and enhance the experience of interacting with an email.  However, they can be overused, misused, and abused.  Occasionally the novelty of the animation alone can be compelling enough to have the opener take pause and engage with the email.

Tip: Click any screenshot to view the animation.

Let’s start with a doozy.  UncommonGoods lets the confetti shake (at a very rapid speed) to create a party environment for a 30-70% off sale.  The overall size of the animation is enough to cause someone to take notice but the speed and repetition of the animation made it difficult for me to really understand the offer.  If you watch the animation long enough, I swear the confetti starts to swirl in a circular motion.




Arden B Kissing Lips animationArden B.’s “Kiss it goodbye” animation covers the entire screen with kissing lips and then reveals the 75% off promotion.  Coordinating the theme of the promotion and the animation helps an opener better understand the animation and the offer.




Thanks for checking out the first collection of the Mid-Month Menagerie.  Be sure to download the full report! Would love to hear which campaigns you loved and which ones you loathed!  

Jim Davidson
Manager of Marketing Research


  • http://blog.ividence.com/en Lynn Dalsing

    Hi Jim, thanks for such an in-depth insight into your inbox. I’m really looking forward to this becoming a regular feature (like the month email stats).

    We included this in our weekly news round up as well: http://blog.ividence.com/en/archives/news-note-inbox-july-23-2012

  • http://www.dinovici.com Vic Dinovici

    Thanks Jim, excellent insights! I’m building emails for a living and your blog is helping me understand better the marketing aspects.

    • Jim Davidson

      Thanks, Vic. Look for the new edition next week!

  • andy

    Hi Jim,

    Nice examples. Quick question, what is the height you are considering above the fold? I have typically gone with 300px, but it looks like you might be a little taller.


    • Jim Davidson

      Hey Andy. 300 is definitely in the range and a good rule to increase the chance that content will be above the fold. These were taken slight over 300 but I use an average of multiple monitors and email clients. Thanks for the comment!

  • http://www.springmetrics.com Shannon Bauman

    Jim – I hadn’t seen your mid-month write-ups until now – very cool.