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Fun Email Facts: The Johnson Box

The random things you discover while doing the most boring things.

That light text you see next to an email subject line is technically called the “Email Preheader”. It’s the text that also shows up in the lock screen notification and is one of those tiny details that we like to obsess over. If you want to dig more into how to effectively use them, I’d recommend this blog post from Litmus.

Here’s your email marketing fun fact of the day: Pre-header is the boring name. The more fun name is “The Johnson Box”.

It’s a shoutout to a direct mail technique invented by Frank H. Johnson, a former Time, Inc. executive and one of the pioneers of direct mail marketing. From his NYT obituary in 2001:

Frank H. Johnson knew the truth about today’s intelligent readers: they rebel against condescension and have scant time to waste. This pioneer of direct mail invented what became known as the Johnson Box, an enticing paragraph just before a letter’s salutation that efficiently and pleasingly synthesized the sales pitch to follow.

The obit reads like a time capsule of everything grand about the grand old age of print media. Frank H. Johnson apparently started out in the mailroom at Time, Inc., even sharpening pencils for Henry Luce.

So keep an eye out with every email notification you get, or take a quick visual scan of your inbox and see which newsletter creators actually pay attention to the “Johnson Box”.

…and one more tasty morsel of Frank H. Johnson advice from the obituary:

‘’All I know is that when you look at any paragraph in the middle of a letter, some word in that paragraph should grab your attention,’’ he said. ‘’It should be a dirty word, or a sexy word, or exclamatory word, something that you didn’t expect.’’ He called such words ‘’raisins.’’