Direct email marketing: an example of a spam email that worked

writing a cover letter, not impressed, fear of freelancing, email marketingBleary-eyed and bedraggled from an uneasy night’s sleep, you drag yourself to your computer in the dark, muttering curses under your breath that the fluorescent glare of the screen is no substitute for the as yet absent sun. With one hand tightly clawed around your coffee for warmth, you start the working day by numbly thumbing through your emails. Half a dozen companies have tried to pitch a sale to you whilst you weren’t looking. The subject lines are usually enough to disband them. 3000 points at 32red Bingo. Book your seat today. Huge deals, huge savings! Impersonal nonsense about things you wish to know nothing about. Dear customer, dear sir/madam, dear person-we-don’t-know-or-care-about. Direct email marketing is seldom inspiring.

You idly delete these messages, tightening your angry grip on the coffee. But sometimes you need to click your emails, mark them read for neatness’ sake, and you happen to open one and see your name. A funny little intro that makes you smile. You read on, and the personal and friendly nature of the copy gives you a little warm feeling. You pay attention, you genuinely consider the offer in the email, and you even scurry onto Facebook to post what you just found in your inbox, giddy with amusement. What makes this one special?

Direct mailing via emails is a dangerous game. Without capturing attention, marketing emails will merely be ignored, all your hard work wasted. Worse, irritate the recipient with spam and you could cause annoyance at your brand in general, with customers hurling their coffee through the screen and blaming your company for making them snap.

When it comes to doing it right there’s a lot of advice out there – for instance this list, this even longer list, and this list of lists. They all make lots of important points, but the most important to remember is that email marketing has to connect with the recipient. I want to demonstrate a single example from my personal experience that did that perfectly. A very simple email that gave me a warm feeling in spite of its obvious nature.

Direct Email Marketing Done Well

direct email marketing, poker email, offersThe email came from PartyPoker. For a bit of background, once upon a time PartyPoker gave me $30 for free, and I spun it into a workable wage for a while. They occasionally give me more free money, even though I never make deposits with them. For that reason alone, I have quite a lot of time for them, and occasionally read their direct emails even when I know it’s simply email marketing. Why? Because they do it well.


Hey, we were just talking about you!

Your name just came up during a big meeting. “Has anybody seen Phil recently?” the boss wanted to know.

We all shook our heads. Nobody can remember the last time you played at!

So, we decided to inject some cash into your account to get you back to our tables. Go check your account now and you’ll see $50 USD in free cash waiting for you.

Come back to today!

poker player, direct mail marketing,

PS Claim your bonus now because it expires soon. Please don’t lose your free money!

The email is short (under 100 words), but to my mind does the job perfectly. The informal introduction immediately personalises the email. It doesn’t matter that you’ve just opened an obvious marketing email and there’s no chance this is genuinely personal correspondence, being told someone’s talking about you gets your attention.

The follow up image is perfect – it’s too poignant not to love. As a company, you’re likely to think of PartyPoker as a soulless money-spinning giant, so it’s an affecting idea that the boss would ask everyone where one lowly player is. For the others to mutely shake their heads as though ashamed is equally absurd, and gives the final idea that this the offer came out of an awkward meeting where they were trying to make amends. Of course it didn’t, none of this ever happened, but the image is engaging enough to make you think about it. And moreover, it is quaint enough to make you think it was written by a real person, not some marketer trying to trick you into parting with your cash.

Only two sentences are then dedicated to actually asking you to return to the tables. They know you already know what they do, what you can get from their service, they just want you to remember them. This email isn’t selling you something new or convincing you their service is best, it’s about creating an impression. And it does.

The close, easily ignored, is also effective. Signing off with a signature image is a nice touch (and I should note a photo of the lovely Kara Scott accompanies this whole enterprise). The idea that Kara Scott wrote this email is as amusing as the image of the boardroom talking about you. It’s a fun ruse to brighten your day. And throwing in the PS to make sure you realise it’s an urgent offer is a clever little addendum. Even this final push is entertaining, as it sounds like they’re begging for your business, equally absurd from a company like PartyPoker.

What to take from this is how direct email marketing can stand out with original writing. You know this email is a sales tactic, that it is, at heart, a marketing campaign, but it’s enjoyable to read because it conjures engaging images. By making that effort, it also gives the impression that it was written by a person, for a person.


I hope this doesn’t sound too much like an advert for PartyPoker. I’ve also received countless emails from them that I’ve never read. I just wish to use this one as an example because it’s always stuck in my mind – I received it back in 2010, and even now it is the first thing I think of as an example of an effective piece of direct email marketing.

Now it’s your turn, think of the best piece of email marketing you’ve received, a simple bit of spam that actually made you stop and think for a moment. What was so good about it, what made it stand out? Feel free to discuss it in the comments below.

2 responses to “Direct email marketing: an example of a spam email that worked

  1. Sadly all my spam is just exactly that, spam. I allow very few email newsletters or companies to contact me with marketing messages. I do like this example though and will remember the points raised for my own email marketing on my hobby site.

    • Thanks for the comment. Yeah it’s true, it’s very rare to get marketing emails that seem worth reading. And to be fair, I’ve not had may others from Party Poker that I remember liking!

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