The Top 42 Email Subject Lines of 2020

As we approach 2021, I thought it would be fitting to go through my 2020 Swipe Folder and pull out my favorite email subject lines of the year.

While the title of this article is “the top email subject lines of 2020,” the fact is, this is a very subjective evaluation that’s based entirely on my own inbox; it’s also worth mentioning that a “good” subject line to me may not be a “good” subject line to you, so take everything with a grain of salt.

This all being said, I did put on my “copywriter hat” while going through this process, ensuring my top picks would help you learn some of the best subject line techniques while getting some inspiration for your own marketing efforts.

Let’s dive in!

Best Political Subject Lines of 2020

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the US had a pretty big election this year, which means my inbox was flooded with multiple political emails on a daily basis.

Because there was so much content, not all of my “picks” from my swipe folder made it into this article, but I did try to choose a selection that showed off a few of the more effective styles and approaches.

Not surprisingly, political campaigns tend to have great writers on staff that utilize a variety of psychological techniques designed to stir up emotions and motivate people to take action.

The same can often be said for well-funded non-profits (i.e. – Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, etc), so if you aren’t already, I recommend subscribing to similar organizations so you can start getting inspiration and swiping their most effective strategies.

The personalized note to make the reader feel special 

In the examples below, notice how the subject lines have been crafted to make me feel as if I’m having a direct conversation with Joe Biden.

This is done purposefully to make the reader feel special and appreciated, which also helps to create a sense of liking and reciprocity (which doesn’t hurt when you’re asking people to give you money).

The invitation from a celebrity

How do you ignore an email from some of the world’s most famous people?!

Like the emails above, any savvy reader knows these are not actually personal emails from celebrities, but they are nonetheless difficult to ignore and very tempting to open.

Obviously, most brands and small businesses don’t have access to celebs like these, but the idea of crafting a subject line that feels like a one-on-one conversation (or an invitation) is doable for anyone with an email list.

The Open Loop 

These subject lines are designed to leave you hanging. They give you just enough information to pique your interest, but not enough so you’ll ignore the email.

We’ll get into more examples of great “open loop” email subject lines in the “Best Open Loop Subject Lines of 2020” section below and throughout the article.

Best COVID-related Subject Lines of 2020

This list is pretty short because a lot of the businesses I subscribe to either didn’t address COVID in a direct way, or they sent emails with delete-worthy subject lines.

Only two COVID-related subject lines made it into my 2020 Swipe Folder:

The first was from Simple Solutions, which combined the promise of important information WITH a fear and curiosity-inducing subject line (two very powerful emotions that can motivate people to act).

The second was from Madewell which (unlike most businesses) took a much more direct and “relatable” approach to the pandemic. 

Granted, hearing from a clothing brand during the initial phases of the pandemic wasn’t something I wanted, but it was nonetheless refreshing to see a subject line that accurately described at least one of the emotions I was feeling at the time.

Best Humorous Subject Lines of 2020

This year (more than ever) we needed a bit of humor to get us through the days. And like a lot of people, I’m a sucker for cute puns or a play on words in ways that make me chuckle or smile.

While the jury is still out on whether or not humor can improve persuasiveness (see this research study here, here, and here), it is, nonetheless, a fun way to connect with your audience while stirring up positive emotions that could lead to increased feelings of “liking” or trust.

Here’s a few of my favorites from 2020:

Best Open loop Subject Lines of 2020

If you’re unfamiliar with this style of subject line, I recommend checking out my article here, which goes into great detail.

Open loop subject lines happen to be one of my favorites because they work — in my experience, they are one of the most effective ways to get someone to open your email.

That being said, a good subject line doesn’t necessarily mean a good conversion rate, but if “opens” is your goal, open loop subject lines are your best friend.

Below are some of my favorites from 2020:

Tapping into FOMO

While FOMO is often associated with persuasion tactics like scarcity or fast-disappearing sales, it can also be used in less “direct” ways.

In the first example below, the brand uses vague language that hints at some kind of important information to trigger the reader’s FOMO.

Similar to the example above, this brand uses a simple question to trigger the reader’s FOMO, making it difficult to ignore.

This example uses a specific number and the promise of additional earnings (or savings) to trigger the reader’s sense of FOMO.


A cliffhanger can be a single word, a short phrase or even a long sentence that piques curiosity and entices the reader to learn more.

The idea is to hook the reader with something that draws them in, whether it’s a powerful word that stands out in their inbox (like “nauseating” in the example below), a personal divulgence (like “I’m almost ashamed to say this, but…” in the example below), or something that’s just totally unexpected (like “Saying Goodbye” in the example below).

These are just a few of my favorites from my 2020 swipe folder:


Some brands, like Reformation, do a great job of utilizing the open-loop technique, but they do it in a way that feels unique to their brand.

In the case of Reformation, they use the same style for nearly every email: All caps + “snarky/quirky” tone of voice + open loop that’s somehow related to the content that’s inside the email.

While I wouldn’t say any of these are my particular “favorites” of 2020, I do recall opening all of them, so they at least deserve an honorable mention:

Best “Special offer” Subject Lines of 2020

It’s no secret that words like “free” or “gift” are incredibly powerful when trying to get a reader to take action.

According to a 2020 report from Google, “The Power of Free” is one of six key biases that influence purchase decisions (you can learn more about the report and how to apply it to your sales in my article here), so don’t discount it (pun intended) when it comes to writing more effective subject lines.

Need inspiration? Look no further than my 3 favorite “special offer” subject lines of 2020.

As you can see, these examples from Kat Maconie and The Honey Pot Co (my former client!) are very simple, yet they’re incredibly effective in grabbing attention and getting the user to open.

Best “Personalized” Subject Lines of 2020

As human beings, we all want to feel special, noticed, and appreciated, which is why a subject line that taps into those core needs can be so effective.

For example, check out this subject line from CourseHorse which tapped into my ego and need to be “special” or recognized:

Here’s a similar email from a New York-based non-profit; regardless of whether or not it’s true, the subject line made me feel important, like I’m so crucial to this organization, they’re “checking in” with me personally.

In the example below from Chewy, they made me feel special by remembering my dog’s birthday and reminding me that I needed to get her something special:

This example below from sweetgreen tapped into my need of wanting to be cared for, which they convey in the simple phrase “we cooked you dinner” (something every woman wants to hear!).

This “abandon browse” email from Fleur du Mal did a great job of not only grabbing my attention, but also personalizing the message to entice me to come back and give the items I was browsing another glance.

Below is a great example of segmentation from one of my former clients, MDSolarSciences; based on my purchasing history, they hit me with this highly targeted email offering me something I’d love just as much as a product I already buy and use.

This is a great example of a highly relevant email that’s targeted to my specific location and interests. There is also a promise of important information, which can be effective when sent to the right audience.

As a small business owner, it’s hard to ignore a subject line like the one below. The idea of learning from rich and successful people is certainly enticing.

Another great example of segmentation in action. Because I had purchased other acne-free products from this business, I’m getting highly targeted emails like the one below that address common pain points for people who suffer from acne.

Best “Relatable” Subject Lines of 2020

Creating relatable subject lines (or any kind of content, really) comes down to knowing your audience, whether through personal experience, customer research, or a combination of both.

It’s also an exercise in empathy, which is all about understanding your audience’s pain points and finding ways to address them in ways that make your audience feel heard and understood. 

In this first example, the writer uses a very common experience for writers (rejection) to hook the reader while also communicating a message anyone with a problem wants to hear: “You’re not alone.”

Sharing the pain and challenges of your audience is a great way to build trust, as is offering a solution to said pain and challenges, like the email below did.

The second example from Copyhackers uses a quote from a “once-apprehensive-customer” to acknowledge and validate the reader’s feelings.

As a student of Joanna’s, I’m going to assume that the subject line below was informed by some kind of Voice of Customer data, as it’s very real and relatable.

(And as someone who has purchased her courses, which require a great deal of time and money, I can confirm that similar thoughts passed through my head at one point or another).

This example below is interesting because it hits on something very relatable — the idea of zooming through your inbox and deleting almost everything in your path…except the few emails that capture your attention.

The writer also used a different font and capitalization to stand out and grab attention.

Best “Story-driven” Subject Lines of 2020

Everyone loves a good story and subject lines are no exception to this rule.

Like open loop subject lines, narrative or “story-driven” subject lines also use some kind of “hook” to capture attention, but in this category, the hook leads into a longer story within the email.

In the examples below, they’re using the “juicy” parts of the story to hook the reader and draw them in.

What Are Your Favorite Subject Lines of 2020?

Pick from the list above or submit your own.

Tell me about the subject lines I missed or any email lists I should join.

As always, thanks for reading — I hope you have a great rest of your year and a happy New Year!

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