When you visit the homepage of Shinesty, an ecommerce brand that sells cheeky, often in-your-face party apparel, the first pop-up asking you to subscribe reads: “Emails suck. Ours don’t.”
Shinesty takes an “entertain first, sell second” approach to its marketing, especially when it comes to email, according to CMO Jens Nicolaysen. When he helped launch the Colorado-based company in 2013, his team’s main objective in reaching new subscribers was to offer an inbox experience they wouldn’t get from any other brand.
“We want our emails to be so entertaining that even if you’re not in the market to buy our products, you keep opening them just to see what’s going to be in there and what kind of laugh you get out of it,” Nicolaysen said. “It’s relatively easy to get someone to subscribe, but it’s really hard to get them to stick around. Brands that don’t provide a unique value proposition—or ones that always rely on discounts—are the easiest ones to tune out because you already know what you’ll get in your inbox.”
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March, email marketing performance has skyrocketed, and Shinesty is no exception. Year over year, the brand reports a 20% higher open rate, while click rates are up 30% and revenue is up 300%.
Nicolaysen said when the pandemic started, the brand wanted to maintain a sense of humor while addressing the seriousness of what customers were experiencing.
The brand has promoted its boxers as a way to “social distance your balls from your legs.” It used the Harry Potter “Why Is It When Something Happens, It’s Always You Three” meme to call out states like Florida, Arizona and Texas, which experienced Covid-19 spikes due to reopening too early. And when Americans were panic-buying toilet paper in March, the brand sent emails to people noting they didn’t sell toilet paper, but offered products for self-care (and a raunchy list of acts to avoid during a pandemic).
“We’ve been very pointed in leaning into the social context, and I think people really appreciate that,” he said. “There’s a lot of doom and gloom surrounding coronavirus. We want to be a bright spot. We’re trying to help people not take their lives and inboxes so seriously, even during something so serious.”
Shinesty’s crass humor hasn’t always sat well with consumers, though. The brand lands in inboxes with different email addresses to grab people’s attention, and Nicolaysen said some subscribers complained about getting emails from the address “email@example.com.” Others, he said, didn’t appreciate receiving an abandoned product email with an illustration of a middle finger.
While the brand has rethought certain messaging based on negative reactions, Nicolaysen said overall, Shinesty isn’t trying to please everyone—and is fully aware some consumers won’t be receptive to certain lanes of humor.
“If we’re not pissing some people off, we’re probably not doing something right,” he said. “But we try to take every single email and understand what’s getting good reactions and what’s getting too much of a negative reaction, and talk about why those didn’t work.”
For the last half of 2020, Nicolaysen said his team plans to continue crafting topical emails around events like the pandemic, the U.S. presidential election and, of course, the holidays. In general, he noted the brand will continue getting creative with how it reaches consumers at every part of their online shopping journey.
“We try to think about email as a journey, from the emails you get when you first subscribe to the ongoing campaign experience to the things that happen along the way, as you abandon products in cart or products come back in stock,” he said. “We want every single email, no matter how seemingly insignificant, to be thought through and designed so when you open it, you’ll think ‘Wow, I’m so glad that I did.’”