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Emojis May Increase Read Rate; Won’t Automatically Land Your Email in the Spam Folder

New research from Return Path explores the impact of emojis in promotional email subject lines.

NEW YORK, May 23, 2017 — The use of emojis—those little digital icons representing everything from sushi and sailboats to infinite variations on the smiley face—has become part of everyday life. Yet marketers have been hesitant to incorporate them into email campaigns, due to uncertainty about how their use may be perceived by both mailbox providers and subscribers.

A new research report from Return Path reveals that emojis may in fact be a useful addition to an email marketer’s toolkit. Released today, Emoji Use in Email Subject Lines looks at emoji use in email campaigns around significant holidays and seasons over the course of a year, and compares them against traditional text-only subject lines. According to report findings, subject lines containing emojis actually saw a higher read rate than comparable text-only subject lines in some cases. Emoji use generally had limited impact on inbox placement rate, either positive or negative. Following are some examples:

  • Around Valentine’s Day, email subject lines including the emoji drove a read rate of 24 percent and an inbox placement rate of 89 percent. By comparison, Valentine’s Day promotions with text-only subject lines had a read rate of just 20 percent and inbox placement of 83 percent.
  • Father’s Day emails with the  emoji in the subject line had a read rate of 22 percent and inbox placement of 96 percent, compared to read rate and inbox placement rate of 21 percent and 88 percent respectively for comparable text-only promotions.

However, not all emojis proved to be so effective. The  emoji in New Year’s promotions had just a nine percent read rate and 38 percent inbox placement rate, far below the average for traditional text-only New Year’s emails.

“Emojis definitely stand out in a crowded inbox, and grabbing the reader’s attention is an important element of email engagement,” said Tom Sather, Return Path’s Sr. Director of Research. “There aren’t a lot of email marketers using them today, so there’s a novelty factor involved.”

While that novelty factor is difficult to quantify in an aggregated research report, anecdotal evidence points to a sharp dropoff in engagement metrics after repeated emoji use.

“What works one time may not work every time. My advice to an email marketer who wants to try using emojis is to use our findings as a starting point for testing their own campaigns,” continued Sather. “Every brand needs to find its own voice and understand its unique audience. There’s no magic formula to using emojis, or any other aspect of an email campaign.”

The report contains additional tips for marketers looking to try using emojis in their email campaigns, and highlights the emojis that performed best for each holiday over the past year. Download the complete Emoji Use in Email Subject Lines report here.

Return Path conducted this study using global consumer data consisting of more than 17,000 commercial senders, 2 million consumer panelists, and 5.4 billion commercial email messages sent to Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and AOL users between March 1, 2016, and March 31, 2017.

About Return Path
Return Path analyzes the world’s largest collection of email data to show businesses how to stay connected to their audiences and strengthen their customer engagement. Our data solutions help analysts understand consumer behavior and market trends. We help mailbox providers around the world deliver great user experiences and build trust in email by ensuring that wanted messages reach the inbox while spam doesn’t. To find out more about Return Path solutions, visit us at or request a demo.