Late last night, I got an email from Ivan Frishberg, BarackObama.com about climate change (see below). Well, eventually I figured out it was about climate change. The subject line said simply, “Unicorns exist**”.
Interesting subject line, but whenever I see something like this in online politics, it makes me think that the organization is probably damaging its brand.
Now, I know why they did this. Often in the online politics biz, it’s hard to attract attention, so people to turn to novelty. Novel subject lines like Unicorns exist** will get people’s attention, pique their curiosity, and get them to open your message. Mission accomplished!
Except no one is likely to open this message because they think it’s about climate change. That means whatever additional openers you get over and above your baseline open rate are likely to be people who aren’t interested in your topic and aren’t going to take your action. So, presumably not much value added.
What’s more, you risk losing something more important: the gravitas of your association with the President of the United States of America. In other words, you risk diluting your brand.
While subject lines (and the ensuing message framing) like this are often the result of A/B tests to validate their performance on key email metrics like opens, clicks, and actions, seldom is the test designed to measure the impact on the overall brand. Which makes sense, because most people in online politics don’t have much of a branding background, and testing branding impact is much harder than setting up two segments of an email.
But to give some idea of the value, let me make an analogy. If the New York Times set up a test on its website to see which got more clicks, one of its normal, staid headlines or a headline with a bawdy pun, like the New York Post would use, I can almost guarantee you it would get more clicks from the bawdy pun. But the Times doesn’t do that, because if it did, it would lose all the gravitas of the Grey Lady and end up a tabloid brand, like the Post.
I think OFA’s brand should have come before testing results in this instance.
|———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Ivan Frishberg, BarackObama.com
Date: Tue, May 7, 2013 at 10:13 PM
Subject: Unicorns exist**
To: Will Bunnett