How can email marketers get the best out of the Olympics? With live embeds

The Olympic Games start on August 5 this year. Right now, athletes taper down their training and start psyching themselves up. At the same time, marketers are revving themselves up to ride the wave by offering to their audiences messages that tie into the edge-of-your-seat atmosphere and to the excitement the Games offer.

As email marketers, it can seem like we are at a disadvantage here. Everyone knows email is where the ROI is but isn’t it a bit… staid for the Olympics? Sure, it is the social marketers who are going to have the right tweet or Snapchat within seconds of the tape that had been broken or of the goal that had been scored. Can we stay that timely and still leverage all the other stuff that’s great about email?

We can, if we go about it right.

We have an advantage already since we know a lot about the Olympics ahead of time. That lets us build out many of our emails before they are needed. Exactly how you will go about this depends on your brand and space. If you are an athletic wear brand with an Olympic sponsorship deal, I guess you have your plan worked out already.

Many brands in disparate spaces have leveraged Olympic marketing to their advantage in the past. Τhink Mini’s Win Small campaign, or Procter and Gamble’s “Thanks Mom”, both of the 2012 Olympics. We are talking about taking the idea of ‘newsjacking’ to a new level. When we are practicing that concept with the news from today, from hours or five minutes ago, we get an advantage over using slower channels. But the question remains, will audiences get to see ‘real-time’ emails?

The fact is that 73% of consumers use on a regular basis a mobile device to access one or more email accounts. So if we reach out with time-sensitive emails, our audience will likely receive them on time.

What we cannot do is have our emails ready to go and then just fire and forget. We need to prepare them in advance.

What’s the solution?

Well, you read the title, so I guess you know what’s coming.

Live embeds let you build out an email campaign. Then they dynamically update some of its content in real time. Eventually, they send it out either at a prearranged time or as a response to a trigger.

The result can be anything from emails that countdown to a relevant event to emails that display live video or entire Twitter conversations and Instagram feeds.

Brands should be imaginative about how they apply live embeds. They do not have to form the centerpiece of the email. They can take the place of the social proof you would use on a landing page. Moreover, we should be imaginative when it comes to riding the wave of the Olympics too. Even if your brand does not offer a sports related product or service, the Olympics can still provide the inspiration for imagery campaigns. We have seen how seemingly unrelated to sports services brands like Procter and Gamble made the Olympic spirit work for them. (Make sure you check the Olympic Committee’s marketing rules, though!)

How can brands build on the excitement of the Olympics with live embeds?

1: Countdown timers

Countdown timers are one of the simplest types of real-time embeds. They are often used by e-commerce brands hoping to add some urgency to a money off promo or to a free shipping retargeting email. They can also be a useful tool for other brands too. So in the setting of the Olympics, it should be possible to use countdown timers to build some urgency.

Right now in the run-up to the games themselves, a timer on your website and in your emails could set a countdown until the games begin.

Once they are underway, use timers to stress relevant parts of the games. Tie them to offers that are available for the duration of each one of them. While this is an easier win for some brands than others, you should be able to tie your products or offerings to the spirit or the experience of the games and use the timers to capitalize on the urgency and enthusiasm they create.

Lee jeans is just one of many brands that use the power of countdown timers to add urgency to email marketing campaigns.



We would want to take the time constraints provided by the games and tie them into offers or deals available from your brand. (Be careful: remember to check the rules before you go ahead and build your campaign!)

You can build your personal countdown timer and paste it into the code of your email template. In case your ESP does not offer a built-in widget that facilitates countdown timers, it will usually provide you with an HTML block. You add that to the email. You then add the HTML you want inside it and the block helps take care of style rules so that the email template is not disturbed by the code.

You can build the code yourself if you are a coding whiz – hey, don’t let us stop you! If you are not, you can use a free tool. Try MotionMail, Sendtric, FreshRelevance or PowerInBox to create the code you need. After that just insert it into your HTML box, and the technical part will be ready!

Countdown timers are reliable in inboxes because they are straightforward. However, they will not work too well in Gmail inboxes because Google caches images. For example, when your subscribers open your email, then click away and reopen it, then most probably they will see a cached image of the countdown timer.

2: Live social feeds

2012 proved that the Olympics combined with social media are a natural fit. This year, social media is more pervasive than ever in people’s lives. They also are a well-established, strategically integrated marketing tool. So the heat is already on. The hashtag #olympics is already trending with over 2 million tweets on Twitter, and the games are still days away. This is something great for social marketers (if they can be heard above the noise) – but what can we do with it in an email campaign?

Embedding live social feeds can be a good way to bring the conversation to your subscribers. Note that, around 85% of viewers is possible to be using a second device while they watch the games. They do that, only because they want to contribute commentary and analysis.

First things first, identify the social channels that fit best with your brand and message. For instance, Pinterest might suit athleticwear oriented e-commerce brands. For other brands, Twitter might make more sense.

Within those channels, identify live feeds that contribute to subscribers’ interests. You can also consider creating your personalized live feed. How? By generating a hashtag or soliciting posts from subscribers. You can make it inspirational, make it fun, make it wry and self-deprecating. You know your audience, so you should know what kind of trigger will make them respond best. Then you can try to build those conversations right into your emails. It is tempting to think that social feeds need to be dead center and up to the minute. Take a look at this email, from hotel chain Hyatt. It shows how social feeds can be integrated into marketing emails seamlessly. Check out the local weather report at the top…




…and the Instagram feed at the bottom, building live, real-time social proof into the email. Think that has got nothing to do with the Olympics? In 2012, along with other expressions of interest in the London Games, travel-related search inquiries almost doubled. Hawaii might not see more visitors, but airport town hotels a long way from Rio will be putting up layover passengers’ right through the games and after.

So how do you put a live social feed into an email?

For most folks, the simplest way will be to use HTML that references a dynamic image of the feed itself, in an img tag. If you build a web page of constant dimensions and screenshot the feed to the web page using a tool like wkhtmltopdf, that translates HTML to PDF, you should be able to implement this for most social feeds.

If you use Avari as an alternative, it will let you build a social block – an HTML block dedicated to social – into your email.  Then it will give you the code to drop into embed a wide range of social channels into your email templates in minutes.

Social feeds usually display in any inboxes that let images to be shown. That means that Outlook recipients might run into trouble. So, you should arrange a fallback – and make sure the image displayed is going to fly on mobile too!

3: Embedded Video

Embedded video lets you bring your subscribers the most popular type of online content– video – embedded in the most popular contact channel – email. Search interest on Youtube was higher for the 2012 Olympics than for any of the last six super bowls, and the trend has since then accelerated. The total Olympic sports content viewed digitally the last 12 months exceeds all that ever shown on ESPN by a factor of 30. Email and video seem like a perfect match. They deliver more email engagement, increase conversions by as much as a quarter and push up average spend. In fact, one study found that just mentioning the word ‘video’ in subject lines increased CTRs by 20%!

The big catch? Most email clients will still fail to render fully embedded video. There are ways around this, however. Using stills from the video to create links that play in a new window, for instance, can be one of them, but it does make video email a less efficient tool. Ultimately, emails with video work great – when they work.

To put in place video embeds, start where KISSMetrics’ Alan Smith starts: Keep it short and host it on Youtube or Vimeo. Hosting on popular sharing sites gives you social and SEO benefits. It keeps videos short reduce the time required for attachment. It also stops you from losing an audience that doesn’t want to sit through ten-minute videos.

So, how do we get them into an email? Especially since until recently the answer was, ‘not really.’ Despite years of work, there just wasn’t a framework to support it. The best you could hope for was a still image linking to the video in another window. That was suboptimal for several reasons. For example, some email clients would not let the link open or even display the image.

HTML5 now lets us display video right in an email. So subscribers can click on your video and watch it on the spot. Awesome.

Even more awesomely, here’s the HTML5 for it:

<video id=”sampleMovie” src=”” controls></video>

Replace ‘samplemovie’ with your video. That is it.

But, as always, there is a catch.

At first glance, you would think HTML5 was a majority-adoption technology. Over two-thirds of email clients support it. But that’s email clients, not email recipients. Just consider the fact that Gmail (40% market share), Yahoo (21% market share) and, yes, you guessed it, Outlook (23% market share) don’t support HTML5. So, as the numbers above indicate, you are possibly sending true embedded video to the 16% of your subscribers.

Workarounds like image + link displays put you back at square one, opening a new window to view the video.

Since viewers prefer short videos, one solution might be a Vine showing video highlights embedded in the email. If you still want to show them a bigger one, you can always add a link to a larger video embedded on a landing page.


Getting live embeds to work as they should remains a technical challenge. But for email marketing, if you built around events like the Olympics, it is well worth it. We have the opportunity to create and capitalize on urgency. We can also reach out to subscribers with social proof right at the moment when something exciting or memorable happens. Throughout the games, marketers will come across many opportunities to use live content in emails to drive engagement and conversions: don’t let them slip away! Register now for free to Moosend and start getting the most out of your email marketing practices.

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