Holiday Email Subject Line Insights to Boost Your Campaign Results

October 6, 2023 | 5 minute read
Tommy Hummel
Analytics Manager for Analytic & Strategic Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
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Email campaign mailing frequency rises dramatically during the holiday season, putting more pressure on subject lines to quickly connect with subscribers and kick off a positive and profitable interaction. Based on an analysis of subject lines and campaign performance from a selection of retail and other B2C brands using Oracle Responsys from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, we discovered a number of insights that can help brands craft better subject lines this holiday season. Here are our top findings…

Discounts in Subject Lines

After a couple of years of meager discounts because of constrained supply chains and low inventories, last year saw marketers turn up the volume on discounting. That focus on discounting showed up in the subject lines of holiday email campaigns.

According to our analysis, the percentage of holiday campaigns that highlighted discounts in the subject lines increased by 47% in 2022 compared to 2021.

Used in 21% of subject lines, mentions of percentage-off discounts remained way more popular than dollar-off discounts, which were used in only 2.2%. Moreover, mentions of discounts across all levels increased. The most prominent jump was in the promotion of 50% off, which more than doubled compared to 2021.

Mentions of discounts in subject lines increased across nearly all levels of discounts.

Despite dollar-off discounts being less popular, our data suggests that subscribers are significantly more likely to open and click emails that promote them in their subject lines. Last year, that was especially true with $10- and $30-off offers. We recommend testing this in your campaigns this holiday season to see if your audience also responds more positively.

All of that said, it’s worth stressing that the vast majority (77%) of subject lines didn’t mention discounts at all. So, brands need to make sure they’re using a variety of subject line tactics to connect with their subscribers.

Use of ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber’ Monday

For more than a decade now, the two biggest selling days of the year are consistently Black Friday and Cyber Monday. These two days are so synonymous with great deals and have such cultural weight that brands use the words Black Friday and Cyber to promote sales as early as July, as part of Christmas in July campaigns. However, brands use those words in their subject lines most often in November and December.

According to our analysis, the results of that usage varies depending on timing. Let’s start by examining Black Friday usage, which is referred to much more than Cyber. Subject lines that used the words Black Friday performed best in terms of opens and clicks during the week leading up to Black Friday. Usage of Black Friday earlier in the month was mixed, although brands had notable success with the terms on Sunday, Nov. 6 and Monday, Nov. 7 last year. Using Black Friday in subject lines after the day generally produced subpar results.

Using “Black Friday” in a subject line performed best at the beginning of the week of Black Friday.

Results around using Cyber were largely similar. For instance, using Cyber in subject lines the Monday before Cyber Monday boosted results on average. However, results were strongest on the Saturday and Sunday before Cyber Monday. Then, as with Black Friday, using Cyber in subject lines after the day generally underperformed. Using Cyber in the subject lines of Green Monday campaigns only modestly underperformed, but it seems like alternatives are worth testing.

Using “Cyber” in a subject line performed best during the weekend before Cyber Monday.

Consider running an analysis of your own past usage of Black Friday and Cyber in your subject lines at different times during the holiday season and comparing the performance of those campaigns to similar ones around the same time, or to ones from previous years. Based on what you discover, test usage this holiday season.

Emoji in Subject Lines

During the 2022 holiday season, 9% of subject lines included one or more emoji, up from 7% the year prior. While emoji usage had a negligible impact on open rates, it appeared to negatively impact click through rates, a sign that emoji might be attracting some openers who are less inclined to click through.

To confirm how your audience responds to emoji, run a few A/B tests early in the holiday season to inform your emoji usage during the core of the holiday season.

Most Used Words

In addition to everything above, we also did an in-depth analysis of overall word usage trends in holiday subject lines. You can see the most popular words used in our word cloud, plus we break down major messaging themes. Check out our Holiday Subject Line Word Cloud.

We hope these insights have inspired you to try new subject line tactics and, above all, do some more subject line A/B testing. Just be sure to avoid these A/B testing pitfalls, which includes choosing a victory metric that’s aligned with the goal of your email. For retailers, that means conversions and sales. That said, you may have to settle for email clicks if you’re doing a 10/10/80 or similar split test where you’re looking to send the winning version out to the majority of your audience the same day. 


Need help with your holiday digital marketing campaigns? Oracle Digital Experience Agency has hundreds of marketing and communication experts ready to help Oracle customers create stronger connections with their customers and employees, even if they’re not using an Oracle platform as the foundation of that experience. Our award-winning specialists can handle everything from creative and strategy to content planning and project management. For example, our full-service email marketing clients generate 24% higher open rates, 30% higher click rates, and 9% lower unsubscribe rates than Oracle Responsys customers who aren’t.

For help overcoming your challenges or seizing your opportunities, talk to your Oracle account manager, visit us online, or email us at

Want to better understand your email marketing risks and opportunities, take advantage of our free Email Marketing Assessment. Our experts will check your deliverability, review your email creative, audit your signup process, do a partial competitive analysis, and more. If interested in this free assessment, reach out to us at

Tommy Hummel

Analytics Manager for Analytic & Strategic Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency

With over a decade of proven success in digital marketing performance on the corporate and agency levels, with a focus in email, direct, and web marketing and encompassing non-profit, association, commercial, travel, financial, retail, B2C, and B2B, Tommy Hummel bring a wealth of experience and expertise in digital marketing strategy, planning, leadership, and client service.

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