Symbols in subject lines, AKA the resurrection of Wingdings

Tracy Beach, Senior Solutions Director

I’ve worked at Portent for 14 years now and this is my first blog post. You might ask yourself, “why now?” “Why does he start with this subject?” The answer is that nothing in the past 14-plus years has been more exciting, more inspiring, and maybe even more important than the recent technological advancements that have allowed us to bring back the Wingdings.

I guess they’ve been rebranded a bit as Emoji’s, but in our hearts and minds we will all know they’re really just Wingdings, Wingdings 2 and Wingdings 3. And now they’re showing up in my inbox with increasing volume every day. Great Zeus has smiled upon us.

Using symbols or emoji characters in subject lines

Recent advancements in technology have allowed us to land on a comet put symbols in our subject lines with ease. This can be important, because the symbols definitely make your subject lines stand out in a cluttered inbox. Many unnamed big brands are testing these symbols in their subject lines as we head into the holiday season where email will play a vital role in generating a few billion dollars in revenue over the next two months.

This is what they look like:

Emoji Inbox - Email Marketing

And it makes sense because they do stand out. But how far can they go? And will they impact sales?

An emojional test

We tested these symbols over a month and a half in a variety of different subject lines and offers. We also polled a few companies that we noticed were also testing symbols in their subject lines.

292,914 emails were sent and we split test 50/50 so 146,457 received a subject line with a symbol and 146,457 without. The symbol we used was the mighty  ▶ arrow.

No ▶
Total sent146,457146,457
Avg open rate9.0%8.7%
Total times opened6.3%5.99%
Avg total clicks13.2%12.7%


Note: We attempted a star ★ one time during this test with a disastrous response and can safely say that people do not like nor appreciate ★ stars in their inbox.

What we learned from our tests

The open rate differences are not as significant as I thought which saddens me deeply, but the symbols do help.

  • Every email with a ▶ symbol had a better open rate than the emails without.
  • Symbol laden emails did not always generate a better clickthrough rate, however that is likely to be offer specific.
  • The very first subject line with a symbol we sent produced the best response rate over all other emails per client, at a 2% average increase in open rate. After that, the response rates degraded to 1% and sub-1%.
  • A one-time special offer email with emojis had a 3% better open and clickthrough rate than one without.
  • On average, symbols generated a half % better re-open rate.
  • People reallllllly don’t like ★.


We’ve also heard from a few of our friends. One company mentioned that they had seen the characters “be a pretty effective inbox differentiator” for their business. They are also lovers of the Wingdings.

So is it helpful to your email marketing? Yes. Is it statistically significant? No. But that may be our tests, our lists, and the businesses that the test subjects are in. The fact that each symbol test won is inspiring. It may not break the bank for everyone, but a strong list might respond differently than a poorly cultivated one. And companies with massive lists would jump at even a .5% increase in opens. And I think there is a lot more you can do beyond the mighty ▶ too.

Suggested best practices

In our tests, we’ve seen several different uses of symbols and emojis with various success rates. We’ve found that:

  • ▶ Best placement for the symbol is as the first character of the subject line.
  • Putting the symbol after the subject line appears to go unnoticed.
  • ✻ Bracketing subject lines with symbols has been said to increase clickthrough. ✻
  • ❶ ❷ ❸ ❹ ❺ ❻ ❼ ❽ ❾ ❿ Don’t overdo it. This has a shelf life before it reaches new heights of annoyance. I’d suggest saving the symbols for emails that deserve attention versus boring old news releases and run of the mill offers.
  • Test! Always test. Try testing different placements of characters. Try different symbols. Try with extra special offers.
  • If possible, use symbols that reflect your brand or message. Travel gets a plane ✈ or a holiday shopping email gets a gifty icon that works in most browsers, but not here.
  • ★ Never use stars. Never.

The future of subject lines

I for one am insanely excited about the potential impact that this resurgence in Wingdings might produce. Now that we have an actual use for Wingdings, what else could be coming our way? I personally am going to lobby hard for:

  • Subject line <blink> tags
  • More ASCI art in subject lines. __̴ı̴̴̡̡̡ ̡͌l̡̡̡ ̡͌l̡*̡̡ ̴̡ı̴̴̡ ̡̡͡|̲̲̲͡͡͡ ̲▫̲͡ ̲̲̲͡͡π̲̲͡͡ ̲̲͡▫̲̲͡͡ ̲|̡̡̡ ̡ ̴̡ı̴̡̡ ̡͌l̡̡̡̡.___ < What is that?
  • More Qbert stand up arcade games. I finally feel that I have the dexterity to master the ordinal joystick. 

Only time will tell how long this will last. I do however, believe that Wingdings are eternal and will someday become a much larger player in the digital space. I can’t wait to see them break into Google Ads.

If you happen to test and want to share your thoughts, drop me a line in the comments. Also, here’s a nice list of safe symbols in case you’re looking.

Special thanks to Jarrod Medrano who quickly installed my A/B tests and to Kris Holmes and Charles Bigelow for creating the infamous Wingdings fonts.

Tracy Beach, Senior Solutions Director

Tracy Beach

Senior Solutions Director
Senior Solutions Director

Tracy joined Portent in 2000, and has succeeded in multiple positions over his many years, continuing his committment to the company's growth and success. From an account strategist to his current role as the senior solutions director, Tracy has played an integral part in helping Portent evolve from a four-employee agency into a leading digital marketing firm. Tracy is proud of Portent’s people, its growth, and is excited for its bright future.

Start call to action

See how Portent can help you own your piece of the web.

End call to action


    1. Hi Sean,
      Apologies for the slow response. I had gone back into hiding until my next blog post in 2028. I’m kind of like Santa only with better vacation. ☺
      As far as unsubscribes, over the course of the emails there were 10 more unsubscribes from emails without emojis. It’s not a very significant gap in the scheme of things. There were however, 10 more abuse complaints from those with emojis which I thought a bit concerning. Let me know if you run into similar numbers and thanks for asking. I hadn’t looked at the abuse data until you mentioned this.

  1. Great first Portent post! Thanks for trying & sharing something completely different with test results.
    This sort of reminds me of Craigslist headlines – a classic case of a Tragedy of the Attention Commons so to speak. Great for an individual, but eventually bad for the platform.

Comments are closed.

Close search overlay