In a world of crowded inboxes and short attention spans, marketers are always looking for the ‘edge’ – that special something that makes an email stand out and, ultimately, get opened. The Delete button is just a few inches away, so how do you write a subject line that entices people to open your message?

Hopefully, you’ve done some subject line testing for your email campaigns, and you already know a bit about what your audience likes and doesn’t like. But a catchy subject line can only do so much for you. How do you grab attention? Some marketers are starting to experiment with the use of symbols – like hearts, stars and airplanes – in the subject line. At emfluence, we’ve been getting more and more questions about the new trend, and wanted to share a few tips and disclaimers if you’ve been itching to try it out.

Why are People Putting Symbols in Their Subject Line?

The simple answer – because it looks unique. A small image in a long list of text-only subjects can be eye catching, and consumers are interested in novelty.

What’s the Best Way to Use a Symbol in My Subject Line?

Like the right word choice or turn of phrase, a symbol can enhance your subject line, if you use it strategically! Don’t just throw in a star. Choose a symbol that enhances your message, or even replaces a word:

Using symbols in your subject lines

Use it as a separator in your sentence, or to draw attention to special offers:

Using symbols in subject lines as punctuation

Try to keep symbols at or near the beginning of your subject, if you want to be sure mobile viewers will see it. Mobile devices will truncate the line at just a few words.

Proceed With Caution!

Like all trends, you’ll probably see the novelty wear off after a while, so don’t overdo it. Be selective and use symbols in moderation. Most importantly, make sure it’s relevant to your brand and your message. The best way to see if something works for your brand is to TEST! The emfluence Marketing Platform supports symbols in the subject line, so don’t be afraid to try it out. (Give us a ring if you want to see a demo.)

As far as how these symbols will affect your spam score – meaning potentially going to junk boxes — opinions differ between various email reputation monitors. Though one character probably won’t prevent you from reaching the inbox, it’s best to test and use Pre-Flight spam checkers to see if you’re still passing most spam filters. Keep in mind that some email spammers may load up their subject line with symbols to disguise inappropriate or spammy words, so limit yourself to one or a few symbols.

Not all inboxes are created equal… Just as the content of your message can render slightly differently in various browsers and email clients, so can symbols in the subject line. So make sure that you still have relevant text! Some symbols render as jibberish in certain email clients or browsers, especially on mobile devices.

Here are a few examples of how the same symbols render differently, or not at all, in various Inboxes and devices:

Symbol preview - Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail

Symbols on mobile devices Symbols render fairly well on iOS. Motorola will display boxes in place of characters it doesn't recognize. Blackberry is the worst at rendering: it doesn't even try to display or replace!


Have you started using symbols? What symbols might be relevant for your next email campaign? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

Added resource: Check out a few fun symbols here and here that you can test and copy + paste them into your raw HTML code (so you don't hit formatting issues). Not sure


  1. Thanks for the info, Sara. You must have been reading my mind. I was just getting ready to write subject lines for a client’s enewsletter and was thinking of testing symbols. Timely info. Thanks!

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