1. Email Marketing

A guide to email marketing on Black Friday

[Updated for 2021]

Black Friday – the day best known for fights over cut-price televisions in Walmart is now an unmissable event in the calendar for all ecommerce brands. And increasingly, more and more industries are jumping on the band wagon from SaaS to travel. 

It’s a consumer holiday that has moved increasingly online, hurried along by Coronavirus and international lockdowns. 

According to research, in 2020 over $9 billion in online retail sales were made on Black Friday and this year that figure will likely increase. Which means opportunities for businesses. And if you aren’t already planning for the last weekend in November, now is the time.

Knowing how to structure your messaging and stand out amongst the crowd certainly isn’t easy. That’s why we’ve looked at hundreds of email marketing campaigns and come up with an email marketing guide to Black Friday (and Cyber Monday).

In this guide we’ll look at:

  • How you can stand out in a crowded inbox
  • The best of last year’s promotional emails
  • Examples of brands that opted against discounts and the messaging they used instead
  • How you can start your Black Friday campaign now

How to be seen among the noise

This Black Friday will likely break records for the number of emails sent. And it’s almost certain that your subscribers will each be receiving hundreds of promotional emails on Friday 26th November.

So in order to stand out in the inbox, it’s worth spending time crafting an engaging subject line and pre-header (the text that appears below or next to the subject line, depending on whether you’re reading emails on desktop or mobile).

Emojis are one way to stand out in the inbox. This example from Topman grabbed attention with the subject line sandwiched between two pointing hands. And it was witty to go along with it.

Example of subject lines used on Black Friday

When we analysed our data from Black Friday, well over half of the emails received on the day (including transaction and B2B marketing emails) featured the words ‘Black Friday’.

Although it cuts straight to the point, in an inbox full of sales emails it can end up looking like this:

Screenshot of Black Friday emails and their subject lines looking near identical

Considering the state of a user’s inbox it’s certainly worth trying something different. Like Topman, you could try using humour in your email marketing to amuse subscribers and encourage email opens. Or include attention-grabbing emojis. 

The best of last year’s emails

Email technology and design is moving forward at a rapid rate. The majority of email clients, except Outlook, now support complex layouts and style. The constant development of email design meant that last year we saw some incredible, eye-catching designs promoting Black Friday.

Here are a few of our favourites to inspire you.

Tinker Watches

Modular watch brand Tinker used Black Friday as an opportunity to release a limited edition watch to match the occasion. And their Black Friday email marketing campaign started with this teaser email: 

Example of a Black Friday email from Tinker Watches

Not only does the email look incredible with its monochrome design and minimal layout. It’s also clever in that it feeds into our curiosity by revealing only a silhouette of the new watch and by keeping text to a minimum. 

And interestingly, there’s no mention of discounts, pricing or availability – popular topics among many ecommerce brands. Instead, Tinker Watches have focused on their latest product and aim to create demand by releasing a limited edition watch. This is a good example of using scarcity as a psychology hack in an email marketing campaign


Fashion retailer Carhartt also adopts a monochrome colour palette but what makes their Black Friday email stand out is the animated GIF. The movement instantly catches your eye and holds your attention. 

Black Friday email campaign sent by Carharrt


And aside from the attention-grabbing GIF, it’s a simple email with little more than a hero image, heading and two call-to-action buttons. Rather than trying to sell products from within the email, Carhartt instead uses this email as a mechanism to get customers back onto their website. Which goes to show that sometimes less really is more. 


Now going by the name of Index, this community space in New York City promotes access to tools within the creative industries. And books are available to purchase on their website. 

The team behind XXXI used Black Friday as a chance to promote a sought-after calendar designed by a Japanese designer Tezzo Suzuki. But they’ve done so with their tongue firmly in cheek, pointing fun at the overzealous consumerist nature of Black Friday. 

They even go as far as to poke fun at themselves by even emailing their audience on Black Friday. And this sort of humour is likely to resonate with their audience. Plus, it comes across as friendly rather than an impersonal sales pitch. 

Black Friday email campaign sent by community design team XXXI

The email also looks great with eye-catching orange and green against a black background. It’s clear this email was designed by people who understand good graphic design. 

For more email inspiration, check out our rundown of the best Black Friday email marketing campaigns of 2018

Brands that didn’t discount on Black Friday

Whilst the majority of brands offered big shouty discounts, there have over the past couple of years been some notable exceptions to this rule. For those of you who can’t afford to discount your products any further, or if discounting doesn’t fit in with your brand, there are still ways in which you can attract attention on Black Friday using email marketing.

Here are a few examples of brands that have done just that. 


Everlane is an ethical clothing firm so it’s likely their customers are less price sensitive, instead caring more about quality and the ethics of the product. For Black Friday they have historically gone as far as closing down their store for the whole day. In 2016 they focussed their efforts on donating all proceeds from sales made on Black Friday to help enrich the lives of their factory workers.

Here’s the email they sent to their subscribers explaining what they were doing for Black Friday:

An example of an alternative Black Friday email sent by clothing brand Everlane


If you’re considering going down the anti-Black Friday route, follow Everlane’s lead and think of ways you can align your brand’s value with this decision. And make that the focus of your Black Friday email marketing. 

For more of Everlane and their email marketing, check out our teardown

Cards Against Humanity

Cards Against Humanity are famous for their anti-Black Friday stunts. They’ve run a number of promotions including sales where you pay $5 for nothing, selling ‘bullshit’ (which 30,000 people bought) and in 2016 they ran a stunt where subscribers could pay $5 to help dig a hole – it was affectionally named “money thrown in the hole”.

It’s another great example of a brand using humour in their email marketing and focusing on building their distinctive brand personality. And subscribers benefit from an entertaining email that is likely to be more memorable than anything else they received that day. 

If your brand is known for its sarcasm or irreverence, this could be a great tactic for you too. 

How to start your Black Friday campaign early

According to research from NFR, every year 40% of customers begin researching and doing their holiday shopping as early as October. That’s why it’s important you start preparing for your Black Friday email marketing campaigns with plenty of time to spare. 

To help you out, we’ve identified five actionable steps that you can be doing now to ensure you’ll have the biggest Black Friday weekend to date.

  1. Add sign-up forms to your website to encourage browsing customers to sign up to your mailing list. The goal is to grow your list so you have more people to email with your Black Friday offer. Look at ways you can optimise your lead strategy to increase your conversion rate. 
  2. Add a Facebook Advertising pixel to your ecommerce store website so you can re-target those customers via Facebook over the Black Friday weekend.
  3. Plan your campaign to run across the whole weekend. For the greatest impact, your Black Friday campaign should be live the morning of the sale. Most ecommerce platforms, like Shopify and WooCommerce, allow you to schedule sales.
  4. Make contingency plans for the weekend. Will your website handle a surge in traffic? Can your customer support team handle the live chat requests?
  5. Begin teasing your customers in the week leading up to Black Friday. Share sneak-peeks of upcoming sales on social media, and start piquing the curiosity of your customers.

And finally, make sure your email looks incredible and makes an impact in the inbox. Learn how to do just that with our ultimate guide to email design.

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  • October 19, 2018

    Thanks for the wonderful guide


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