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Stupid Magill Watch: Fancy That; Cyber-Monday Subject Lines Work

12/18/12

By Ken Magill

Boy, was I wrong.

A couple years ago I published a piece calling BS on the concept of Cyber Monday.

I wasn’t contending it was always BS. I was contending it had become BS.

Here’s why: “Cyber Monday” was coined in 2005 by the National Retail Federation to refer to the spike in sales online retailers saw on the Monday after Thanksgiving when people returned to work and took advantage of their employers’ broadband Internet connections to shop online.

Back then, most American Internet users didn’t have broadband access at home.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, just 30 percent of Americans had home broadband access in March of 2005. A year later, 42 percent of Americans had high-speed Internet access at home.

So, I surmised, the term Cyber Monday was becoming obsolete as soon as a year after it was coined.

People no longer need their employer’s broadband access, I wrote. And they’re not going to wait until the Monday after Thanksgiving to start their online Christmas shopping.

“Yet,” I wrote. And here’s where I really went off the rails: “there is no doubt that many retailers will waste precious subject-line space this week promoting Cyber Monday in their email campaigns. And the term Cyber Monday won’t do a thing to lift sales.

“Now if they called it ‘Free-Shipping Monday,’ or ‘Buy-One-Get-One-Free Monday’ they might see a lift. But the word Monday wouldn’t be responsible for the lift. The offer would. Get it? Cyber Monday is not an offer. It’s a trade-association gimmick that gets more meaningless by the year. Don’t waste precious promotional space or your two-second moment with your customer referring to it.”

And, for the love of god, don’t ever listen to me when I opine over what should and should not be in a subject line.

Turns out “Cyber Monday” works like gangbusters in subject lines.

I asked Margarita Golod, director, product marketing for Return Path, to check the company’s Inbox Insight tool to see if the term Cyber Monday in subject lines resulted in any discernable lift in response.

She checked emails sent out on Nov. 26, or Cyber Monday, with the term in their subject lines against email sent that day that didn’t have Cyber Monday in their subject lines but contained words such as “sale,” “discount,” “off,” “free,” “save,” “deal,” and “savings.”

She compared 16,000 campaigns without Cyber Monday in their subject lines to 7,000 with.

“I was comparing subject lines that have Cyber Monday to subject lines that don’t have Cyber Monday, but still have some sort of discount,” said Golod. “What I found basically is your hypothesis is not correct.”

She was kind enough not to end that last sentence with the word “dumbass.”

What did Golod find out? Emails sent on Nov. 26 with Cyber Monday in their subject lines had a 26 percent higher read rate than those without.

To be sure, there are a lot of variables unaccounted for here and I’m no statistician. In fact, I’m apparently not all that bright. But a 26 percent lift in people who opened the messages would seem to me to be significant enough to say Cyber Monday works.

“Keep in mind these were only emails sent out on Nov. 26,” said Golod. “But on Cyber Monday, when you put Cyber Monday in the subject line, people pay attention.”

And apparently I need to go back to DM basics and remind myself that we can never predict what will or won’t work.

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