When it is ok to use FWD: in your email subject line?

In truth never… Unless you meet this one criteria: You are forwarding an email to someone else from your own email account. You should never use this in a commercial or bulk broadcast. Yes that even includes your forward to a friend campaigns. If it’s not a forward, don’t label it one.

Today’s topic comes from a post I read over on the Email Marketing Lounge titled: “Who Said the Political Season was Over?“.

Three items were noted in the description of the Email from John McCain’s email communication that made this a good message due to the following actions:

  • Use of “Fwd” in the subject line – certainly a nice way, when used selectively, to draw in incremental opens
  • Strong call to action – though a better creative template would certainly help; including a link to a hosted page
  • Use of a signature image to further personalize the communication

Now I completely agree with the last two items here; having a strong call to action is essential and the proper use of images to personalize the feel of the message – it’s a nice touch to a text heavy email. The part I have issues with seems to be the recommendation to using FWD in the subject line, even selectively this is a bad idea. This is a commonly used tactic spammer employ to get into peoples inboxws to entice them to open messages and download their messages – I have several very current examples of this in my spam folder right now.

As a reasonable recipient of emails you could view the use of FWD as a misleading representation of the actual content of the message, possibly in violation of Can-Spam (IANAL). Section 5.a.2 of CAN-SPAM reads:
PROHIBITION OF DECEPTIVE SUBJECT HEADINGS.— It is unlawful for any person to initiate the transmission to a protected computer of a commercial electronic mail message if such person has actual knowledge, or knowledge fairly implied on the basis of objective circumstances, that a subject heading of the message would be likely to mislead a recipient, acting reasonably under the circumstances, about a material fact regarding the contents or subject matter of the message (consistent with the criteria used in enforcement of section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. 45)).

It is defiantly not a forward if you are the intended and primary recipient of a bulk broadcast, that was likely sent to several thousand email recipients just like you (even CNN reported on it). As Laura from Word to the Wise would say “That’s what spammers do“.

What are yours thoughts on this? I posted the following question on twitter:

Who Said the Political Season was Over? Should you ever use FWD: in the sub of an email to your subscribers. I vote NO: http://idek.net/26s

And within 5 minutes had the following four responses:

EmailKarma.net Twitter Replies

Author: Matt V - @emailkarma

Matthew Vernhout is a digital messaging industry veteran and Certified International Privacy Professional (Canada) (CIPP/C) with nearly two decades of experience in email marketing. Matthew is 250ok’s Director of Privacy, and he is currently the Vice Chair of the eec, after serving for several years as the Chair of their Advocacy Subcommittee. Matthew was recognized as the 2019 eec thought-leader of the year.

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  1. Matt,

    Missed your tweet but totally agree with you. Left a comment on the original post saying the same. Hopefully will see it on there soon.

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  2. I agree that FWD can look spammy in the subject line.

    Saying that I think I have this as a tip in my paper on growing your email list 🙂 I really need to update that whole doc!

    I added it in after I read this:

    “Use your subject line to encourage forwarding. The Association for Interactive Marketing (AIM) always adds “Pls. Forward” to the ends of their newsletter subject lines and they report it’s more than doubled their circulation!”

    Quote taken from:


    Is adding, “Pls. Forward” to the subject line a big no no? I have not actually tried it myself…

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  3. Anna,

    Adding Plz. forward at the end of your subject line seems ok to me – related to the Pls. RT commonly seen on Twitter.

    Starting an email with FWD: however is a different beast all together. 🙂

    Thanks for reading!


    Post a Reply

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