• Last updated: Aug 05, 2016
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Special characters in subject lines have been an established part of an email marketer’s arsenal for a few years now, so you may think they are no longer shiny new toys.

But did you know just how great each special character renders in each mobile client? Colours, 3D effects and micro detailing have elevated the humble monochrome character to an attention-grabbing symbol on mobile. And with over 50% of opens now happening on mobile (source: Litmus), it’s time to update your special character strategy in time for your all-important seasonal campaigns.


Add some sparkle to your seasonal campaigns

While the novelty of special characters in subject lines may not be as fresh as it was a few years ago, rendering on mobiles and the rise of emoticons mean they are enjoying a renewed prominence in the inbox.

So below are some of the more festive-themed special characters, their code, and how they are rendered both in the Unicode standard view and as an illustrated symbol. It’s easy to imagine how these can be used to complement your subject line in the busy seasonal period.

As always, testing will be the key to finding out what works for your subscribers but with evidence they do increase open rates when relevant and timely*, why not give them a go? We will blog and feature our favourites in the New Year!


So why do special characters render differently in some devices and clients?

One of the main concerns of using symbols in subject lines is the compatibility and rendering of each symbol across email clients, smartphones and tablets. So why do they render differently?

Symbols are not unique objects like images. They are coded instructions that refer to a pre-defined set of characters or symbols that conform to web coding standards. So different clients render them as either an illustrated symbol or as a standard Unicode symbol, which is why there are big differences in how they are displayed, as shown below:


As you can see, in the iPhone the Golfbreaks.com email is strongly distinguished from the other text-based subject lines, while the result in the desktop inbox is much less obvious. This is because, unlike desktop email clients, mobile devices can substitute special characters and symbols with their own illustrated icons taken from their stock of emoticons.

The key difference is that once the device makes this substitution, the symbol becomes an object which cannot be subject to resizing or reformatting.  In addition, variations in manufacturer, operating system and software version mean that character sets are not universal - the same symbol can be substituted for different versions of the icon. As a result, there could be numerous versions of the intended subject line, something that used to always be consistent across platforms.


* http://www.alchemyworx.com/emailworx/2012/design/special-characters/
** http://www.alchemyworx.com/emailworx/2009/strategy/how-to-create-emails-that-sell-even-unopened/