Like most people, I receive a lot of spam emails, but I have to say my favourite spam emails of all time are the ‘Congratulation, you win prize!’ type spam emails, with all their typos, confusing requests and terrible designs.
Normally, I have a chuckle and hit delete… but this time I thought we could use these spam emails to deconstruct what it is about these junk competition emails that set off the spam alert, so we can avoid making the same mistakes and use them to learn how to ultimately write great competition emails that encourage entries and sales.
Remember, these are real, “genuine”, actual spam/phishing emails that I, along with many others have received. If you ever receive an email like these ones, please do not click on the links. End of Public Service Announcement.
1. Great competition emails begin with a great subject line.
Before you even open an email, there’s one piece of copy (text) that can make or break it.
The subject line.
Half the battle of sending successful marketing emails is in the subject line, as this is what is most likely going to impact your open rate. A great subject line can mean a high open rate and the more people that open your email, the more people are likely to enter your competition.
Let’s take a look at the subject lines of some of the most recent spam competition emails I’ve received:
Here’s what we can learn from these spam emails:
- If you’re running a competition, don’t use subject lines like ‘Your Offer is Ready’, it’s either an offer email or a competition email. If you’re emailing your subscribers to let them know you’re running a competition, use language that clearly tells them you’re running a competition, not giving them an offer.
- Avoid ‘transactional’ language like ‘Confirmation Receipt’ unless it’s a transactional email. What do I mean by transactional email? If you’ve just completed an action, such as subscribing, enquiring or purchasing, you’re likely to receive a transactional email as confirmation that a transaction has taken place, such as a ‘thank you for subscribing’ email, or a receipt for your purchase.
- Even though they’re spam emails, both the ‘Keep calm and win KMART voucher’ and ‘Are you a McDonald’s lover? Enter Now >>’ (if you overlook the errors) are good examples of subject lines. They’re short, to the point, clearly show there’s a competition and mentions (or hints at) the prize. All in 6 or 7 words.
In fairness to the scammers who send these dangerous, spam emails, the subject lines aren’t terrible, they’re just not great. We’re aiming for great.
So what should your competition email subject line be?
Aim for something simple, short and sweet – for example “Win a [prize description]”, such as “Win a week in Paris!” or “Win a brand new Winter Wardrobe…”. The aim is to get people curious enough to open the email, not tell them everything they need to know in the subject line.
TIP: whilst there are a number of factors that can trip the spam switch when sending competition emails, one factor may be if your subject line contains too many spammy words such as ‘WIN’, ‘competition’, ‘contest’, ‘enter now’, ‘giveaway’ etc. Keep these words to a minimum for the best chances of both landing in the inbox and getting those all important email opens.
2. When it comes to competition emails, design matters.
If your subject line dictates whether or not people will open your email, your design dictates whether people will bother to read your competition email, delete it straight away or even report it as spam.
As much as we’d all love to say we don’t judge books by their cover, we all do. When it comes to competition emails, our brains process the design, look and visual elements of an email first, before we decide it’s worth our time to read the text.
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of how not to write a competition email first.
I genuinely wish I was making this up, because it truly makes my eyes and brain hurt to look at this sorry example of a competition email.
Whoever put this email together clearly forgot to edit the generic template and replace the ‘logo’ and ‘reward’ images. Broken or missing images aren’t easy on the eye, don’t help you show what your competition prize is or create desire among your subscribers to win the prize and enter the competition.
Not only that, but missing images immediately calls into question the trustworthiness of your competition.
Here’s another example:
The crappy subject line gives way to an equally crappy email design.
You may notice that Netflix is now referred to as ‘Streaming Flix’ (which should be a red flag for any reader) and though they’ve used a close red to Netflix’s brand red, there’s nothing else in the email that shows the reader who is running the competition or what they can win… unless it’s $90 worth of balloons and confetti in a box?!
TIP: Your call to action, which is usually a button, should not only be visually appealing, in your brand colours and style, with brand fonts to match, but should also contain relevant and compelling call to action text such as ‘ENTER NOW’ or ‘SUBMIT YOUR ENTRY’.
The call to action in the example above, ‘GET STARTED’ is more suited to an email aimed at onboarding or reengaging an audience rather than signalling that is where to click to enter a competition.
So, what have these spam competition emails taught us about design?
- Check your images and make sure they load properly.
- Adding your correct logo to the top of the email helps remind your audience who the email is from, reassure them it’s genuine and creates a little bonus brand awareness for your business.
- Check the resolution of the images you use – images over 1000 pixels wide will usually load slowly (or not at all) and images under about 300 pixels wide may distort or appear too low resolution.
- Though it may be easier and/or prettier for you to include the text on an image, it’s poor form to do so. For starters, the email platform may not load the image at all, so your recipient gets a blank email and in addition, many email providers will mark image-only emails as spam as their bots can’t crawl the text to make sure the email is safe for your inbox.
- If possible, include an image of the prize, to improve conversion from open to click through.
- Include a relevant, clear and compelling call to action in the form of a branded button with text such as ‘ENTER NOW’.
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3. If you want competition entries, you need quality copy.
Notice how I said ‘quality’, not quantity?
Your email doesn’t need to be an essay in order to convert readers into entrants. As with the subject line above, simple, short and sweet still applies to the main body copy (or text) of your email.
Let’s take a look at some more stellar examples of how not to write competition emails.
Ignoring the awful design of this email for a second, let’s breakdown the copy:
Attention KMART shoppers
It’s time to win KMART voucher!
Dream no more!
Keep calm and win KMART voucher
All you need is KMART!
This email tells me absolutely nothing about the competition other than I can win [a] Kmart voucher.
How much is the voucher? I don’t know. What do I have to do to win the voucher? Not a clue. Why are they giving away a Kmart voucher? Your guess is as good as mine. Who is giving away a Kmart voucher? That’s the million dollar question.
Readers of this email will (hopefully) also have these questions and hesitate to enter a competition if they don’t have their basic questions answered up front.
A great competition email, on the other hand, contains the following key information:
- Who is running the competition
- What your reader can win (bonus points for including an image of the prize)
- Why you’re running a competition
- When the competition closes
- Where they can enter
- How they can enter (what steps they have to take)
- A relevant, clear, compelling call to action
I took the liberty of re-writing the copy of this email, to show you what I mean…
Attention Kmart lovers!
Mystery Company Inc is giving you the chance to win a $10,000 voucher to spend at Kmart.
To celebrate ten years of Mystery Company Inc and to thank you for your support, we’re launching a very special competition to reward one loyal customer with a $10,000 shopping spree! That’s $1,000 for each and every year we’ve been serving the community with amazingly awful competition emails.
Our competition closes on the 28th February 2022, so make sure you get your entry in soon! Simply head to www.mysterycompanyinc.com/competition, enter your name and email address and you’ll be in the draw to win!
Thank you for your support over the past 10 years.
Mystery Company Inc
Yes it’s a little longer than the original, but it still comes in at a grand total of only 123 words, whilst still containing all of the essential information needed to help convert subscribers into entrants.
If you want more tips on writing compelling copy that converts, check out Nell Casey, professional copywriter’s tips:
I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through my spam email folder, taking a look at how junky competition emails can teach us how to write great competition emails. To recap, the formula for compelling competition emails is simple – first, write a short subject line that makes it clear you’re running a competition and what they can win to get them to open the email. Then, put some thought into the design of your email to ensure they actually engage with your email – be sure to include your logo, an image of the prize and a compelling call to action. Finally, create your copy using the basic who, what, why, when, where and how method. Easy!