Adventures in Mobile Marketing

Review: 10 Emails with Images-Off

More and more hosted email providers– namely Yahoo Beta and Gmail– are turning off images by default. In advising one client on how best to handle the alt-text, that is the text that shows when an image is “turned-off” by the email server, I scanned two email inboxes and found ten examples that illustrate the various techniques being done out in the field. Covered are: Coit Liquor, Eddie Bauer, Red Envelope, Gap, Avis, Discovery, Peets‘, Macy’s, Fandango and Barnes & Noble. Also reviewed 2 weeks later, “10 Images- 2 Weeks Later.”

Tips: How to Design For Images-Off
- Use of non-image HTML techniques, such as colored background tables and colored text.
- Enticing, clever alt-tags that induce viewers to select “images on”
- Reducing the number of images above the fold
- Not relying on one large image for your email
- For tabbed headers and menu header, using tables and text instead of small images

Example 1: Coit Liquor: Spare but Effective
Coit Liquor
I know this small wine seller in my neighborhood of North Beach, San Francisco. They have a very loyal base and they’re using Constant Contact to manage their promotions and newsletters. This email is unique because they have totally avoided using images. I showed this to one client as a sample of of a totally safe email that will have no problem communicating to all of its subscribers. A sad reality, but effective.

2. Eddie Bauer: Consistently Good
Mixed Text and Image Sample
What I like about this email is its mixed use of HTML text-only design and images. The background table colors and CSS on alt text all work with their overall design. Eddie Bauer has consistently stayed on top of good email design and changes in technology. For clients who think that their business is so dependent on images that they can’t imagine someone viewing an email with images off- Eddie does it quite well. They manage to hint at the style of their clothes in the palette, and use alt text sparingly and effectively. Notice their menu headers are not images, but gray text on white background table.

3. Peets: Great Mixed Use
The moment I got this email, I forwarded it onto a friend who had been talking with me about alt-text and usage. It’s spare, but with the right palette for their design, and it has the enticing alt-text “Web exclusive”. It makes you want to load images to see what the exclusive is. I also really like the yellow box with dark lettering below the main image. My one critique would be to scale the image smaller so that the yellow box is more predominant and above the fold.

4. Fandango: Unique Solution

Fandango Sample
They don’t use alt-text, but have a good bulleted list with the main offers, a colorful HTML design and it’s all above the fold.

5. Barnes & Noble: Quite Good
Barnes & Noble
I like the bar in the middle, the alt text is relevant to the offer, and notably, it’s as wide as the image, which is a known restriction with some email versions.

6. Macy’s: Not So Hot
This is what happens when you lean too much on a main graphic in your email. Sure, there’s alt text and it’s better than nothing, but that’s not saying much.

7. Red Envelope: On a Journey
I wrote about them a while ago, in reviewing disastrous image-off designs. Well now they have alt-text, but this is a new problem they’ve created- an enticing clever subject line, that opens into amateurish formatting of text that is equally mysterious. This opened email should reveal something concrete. Also, too much reliance on images.Red Envelope

8. Avis: So-So
They do a good job of integrating non-image HTML in the overall design, but the spacer gifs (images used for layout only) seem to clutter up the message, which diminishes the offer and alt-text. This also could be a victim of too many offers in one promotional email.

9. Discovery: Somewhat OK
They got some of the techniques right: mixed use of images, and getting the offer out in large colored text. The problems? Their menu heads are needlessly in image formats. They alt-text irrelevant images. So they could do a good clean-up on their design and have a very effective email. Especially with Discovery photo content that begs to be downloaded, such as “Shark eating a man” or something enticing.

10. Gap

You wouldn’t write an email in all caps, so why would you put the alt text in all caps? Also proscribes to the image-heavy email, with very little in text, which is a flag for spam filters. The header/menu bar could be text and HTML tables.

Other Reading & Resources
“How ALT Text Renders in Popular Email Clients,” by Bill McCLoskey. I’ve been forwarding this around all day as it shows very clearly the rendering of images-off emails in different browsers.

MailChimp, “HTML Email Coding Mistakes” Great overview of design for email.

Vitamin Features: Taming the HTML Beast
refers specifically, as I do here, to what emails look like with images-off.

Campaign Monitor Blog: “Testing Your Email With Images Off”- another post on how this is important to test before launching.

Derek Harding on ClickZ, wrote “When Email Images Don’t Load”, Derek talks about the rise of images-off handling and the impact it has on email marketing.

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Written on Tuesday, 10. July 2007 at 21:54 In the category design, images off, techniques. Follow the comments via RSS here: RSS-Feed. Share on FriendFeed

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  1. [...] Make the email look good even with images off (see last post, “Review: 10 Emails With Images-Off” for good, and bad, examples) [...]

    Pingback: Adventures in Email Marketing » Images Off: Unfortunately, it’s the First Impression | – 15. July 2007 @ 5:28 pm

  2. These are some great examples. I run, a blog that tracks the email marketing campaigns of the largest online retailers, and I don’t see nearly enough attention given to designing with image blocking in mind. Too many retailers don’t use alt tags and some still rely on giant images–Neiman Marcus is probably the worst offender there. Image blocking issues aren’t going away. It’s definitely time for retailers to give this more attention.

    Comment: Chad White – 20. July 2007 @ 9:52 am

  3. Thanks Chad- I’m a devoted reader of Retail Email! Yeah it’s time for those big retailers to wake up.

    Comment: banane – 20. July 2007 @ 10:25 am

  4. [...] has good articles, such as Review: 10 Emails with Images-Off. [...]

    Pingback: How not to design HTML email: Case Nokia — – 23. July 2007 @ 4:44 am

  5. Anna -

    I agree with Chad. Great stuff. The visual review is very powerful…one that I will be sure to share with Bronto clients.

    Thanks again.

    dj at bronto

    Comment: DJ Waldow – 23. July 2007 @ 5:12 am

  6. [...] Also I learned of a nice website for e-mail marketing. This will definitely help me out so I can prove to my boss I am a great and useful worker. GO Corporate America!-lol [...]

    Pingback: » Blog Archive » finished – 02. August 2007 @ 6:49 pm

  7. Very nice. Great tips on generating effective html email. This is a new thing for me and needless to say, the first html email that I sent out relied essentially on one giant image. Not anymore.

    Comment: Josh – 14. August 2007 @ 4:56 pm

  8. [...] Because of this I had to make sure that not only did my email ad convey its message, but that it did so without images. (I turned here for advise.) [...]

    Pingback: Lloyd Media » Blog Archive » Designing for usability in email advertising – 10. September 2007 @ 7:46 pm

  9. [...] Building the Ad After a little bit of research, and much consideration, I begin to build the ad: [...]

    Pingback: Lloyd Media » Blog Archive » A first try with email marketing – 10. September 2007 @ 8:20 pm

  10. [...] What People Read On Adventures in Email Marketing – Review of 10 Emails With Images Off. Outlook announced it was suppressing images in January. In June, I found that most major emailers were still quite sloppy about designing for images-off. – Creative Campaign Ideas. A quick review of my inbox and some emails of note that were beyond the usual email campaign ideas. – Gmail and Email Marketing . How Gmail is a very, very stringent technical requirement for email design, and methods and techniques to get around it. [...]

    Pingback: Adventures in Email Marketing » Adventures in Email Marketing Recognized in Top 20 List | – 02. October 2007 @ 10:36 am

  11. [...] topic on Adventures: – Any posts I’ve written in Images-Off category (sorted by recency) – Review, 10 Emails with Images Off earliest post I did on this [...]

    Pingback: Adventures in Email Marketing » Images Off Review… Next Up, Online Travel | – 12. March 2008 @ 3:35 pm

  12. [...] “images off” situations: Make Email Look Good In Gmail – 8 Design Tips for Images-Off Review: 10 Emails with Images-Off Peer Review: Images Off & Subject Line [...]

    Pingback: Blog about Contactology - Web-based email marketing software » Blog Archive » Looking Good… Even When Gmail Blocks Your Images – 13. March 2008 @ 11:56 am

  13. [...] most long posts can be condensed, but I’m not writing for the scanner or easy grepper. My “10 images off” post is the most popular on here, and it runs pretty long. It just has to- it covers a lot of [...]

    Pingback: Adventures in Email Marketing » Corporate Blogs: How To | – 22. March 2008 @ 10:11 am

  14. I would have never given much thought to the presentation of the ALT text in an email marketing campaign. It’s almost like you need to design your email layouts simultaneously to address viewing with images and without.

    Comment: Ryan – 04. April 2008 @ 10:51 am

  15. [...] that illustrate the various techniques being done out in the field. Covered are: Coit Liquor, Eddie Bauer, Red Envelope, Gap, Avis, Discovery, Peets‘, Macy’s, Fandango and Barnes & Noble. [...]

    Pingback: Email Marketing Guidelines | TECH Bar – 18. August 2009 @ 12:00 pm

  16. great stuff..pretty much i know what is good for my upcoming sites :)
    seems like plain and simple would still be the best :)

    Comment: Jeremy – 19. July 2010 @ 2:31 am

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