A few weeks ago it was my good friend and business partner Abbey Woodcock’s birthday.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ABBEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

HI ABBEY!!!!!!!!

As a result, she got a number of those “auto-generated” birthday emails.

Now, listen…

I personally think sending out an email to a customer on or around their birthday is generally a good idea.


It’s not the easiest thing to pull off.

After all, you can:

  1. Play it safe and send a nice, personal message and not make a sale.
  2. Go for the jugular and recognize this as a prime opportunity to make a sale… because who doesn’t love buying themselves birthday presents, right?
  3. Walk the line somewhere in the middle. Probably your best bet.

Today, I wanted to break down two versions of the same birthday email.

I want you to pay close attention to the TONE and FOCUS of the copy.

I think this breakdown is going to show you how to shift your own writing voice ever so slightly… so that people LOVE reading the emails your company sends out… and so you won’t run the risk of grossing your cutomers out with your copy.


Without further ado…

Let’s dive into this week’s Email of the Week!

This is the 29th installment of my Email of the Week series. (Catch up on previous episodes here.)

And in case you’re new around here, here’s how this all works…

The Rules For Email Of The Week

Each week, I go out into the wild to find a super-effective e-commerce marketing email… and I break down what made it work. My goal is for you to tune in each week, so I can teach you strategies and best practices YOU can use to make your own emails better.

I find these emails in my inbox, but I also accept suggestions from readers who have a remarkable email they’d like to share.

If you recently received an email that was so awesome it made your jaw drop, I wanna see it.

Forward it to me (chris at theemailcopywriter dot com) with a brief message about what you liked about it. If I choose to do a breakdown of the email you sent, I’ll give you a shout out and link to your site.

The only rule is… you can’t pick yourself.

Now then, without further ado, let’s check out the Email of the Week!


Today, we’re going to look at TWO emails.

Abbey received one email from Capital One on her birthday… and she also received one from Donors Choose.

Fun fact: I have done business with both of these companies before.

I use Capital One for banking and I have one of their CCs. And, I have also donated to Donors Choose in the past.

So I have a bit of context here.

They’re both great companies, but they kind of took a different approach in their “birthday email” copy.

And… I think one of these emails came out a lot better than the other.

Let’s start with the Capital One email…

Subject: Haaappy birthday, dear Abbey ????



Interesting elongation of the word happy. I might have opted to hold down the Y key instead of the A. Just my personal preference when I’m wearing my “fun” hat as I’m writing.

Like the birthday cake emoji.

Like the first name liquid field in the subject line.

So, that’s cool.

Let’s take a look at that body…

Here, we have a very large hero image with a nice headline.

I’ll admit, the cupcake does look a tad bit dry.

A little less flour, a little more egg next time.

Let’s look at the copy…


So, there’s a couple smart things they’re doing in this email.

They’re demonstrating the superiority of their product. I love Capital One’s app. I love their products. Great company, all around.

So I think it’s smart that they’re ‘meeting you where you’re at’ around your birthday.

You’re probably going to get checks. You’re probably going to need to hit the ATM so you can slam down another $60 round of tequila shots… so an hour later you can puke your brains out in the bathroom of Skinny Dennis.

It’s all good, bro.

No judgement here.


It’s your birthday, have a day.

It’s also smart that they plant the idea of the fee-free ATM.

Despite their great use of dimensionalization… there’s something about this email that feels a little weird.

It’s checking all the right boxes.

It’s being helpful.

It’s wishing you a happy birthday.

But I can’t put my finger on why it’s not making an emotional connection with me.

It’s just a very ‘corporate’ birthday greeting. I wouldn’t say it’s fun.

It’s probably super-effective.

But it just doesn’t hit me in the feels and match my temporarily elevated dopamine levels I’m experiencing around my birthday.

Let’s contrast this approach with the email from Donor’s Choose…


Subject: Happy birthday!


Ok, no fucking around here.

Right to the point with this subject line.

I can get behind it in this context.

Bit of curiosity, I guess. Right?

Let’s check out that body…


Now, when I read THIS email… I just feel some type of way.

This one hits different.

First… it feels more personal. Maybe because the text itself is the focus of the message… and not some unnecessary hero banner?

(One day, companies will catch on that the TEXT is the most important part of the email, not the heroes and images.)

Second… the tone of the copy seems a bit more down-to-earth, more conversational. Dare I say even more personal?

Third… (and this is the MOST important part) they make a real, emotional, human connection.

Obviously, Donors Choose wants you to…

wait for it…


… to donate to their projects.

The way you get donations is by appealing to people’s emotions.

Look at how they did that here.

“Happy Birthday Abbey. You share a birthday with Mr. Freedman….”

Instant emotional connection.

When you read this copy, it gets you curious.

And the funny thing is…

Even though Capital One’s approach leans more toward appealing to self-interest… I’m feeling more compelled to follow through with the call-to-action in the Donors Choose email.

Are you feeling the same way?

Maybe its because they’re not ‘asking’ for anything here?

They’re just letting that link hang in their air… in a completely non-needy way… which makes you curious. It does NOT make you feel like someone’s trying to sell you something, because they’re honestly not.

But they are offering an opportunity for you to feel even better about yourself by doing something good and selfless for the world.

Imagine how much virtue signaling you can do with your friends in between slurping down Bourbon Mint Sweet Teas at Skinny Dennis AFTER you donated to Donors Choose.

You’d probably feel pretty good about yourself.

Who Won The Email Cage-Match?

I’m going to have to give it to Donor’s Choose… for the simple fact that they appealed to emotion while Capital One appealed to logic.

Obviously… I think they both probably worked.

But that Donor’s Choose email was sneakily good.

Here’s my question for YOU, now…

Have you ever gotten a really good, really effective birthday email?

If so, send it to me – I wanna see it.

I’d love to revisit the topic of birthday emails in the future.

Special Shoutout to Abbey Woodcock!

Abbey is the Forrest to my Bubba. She’s my best, good friend in this wacky world of copywriting.

If you’re not on her list… you should be:

Click here to get Abbey’s book, What They Hear When You Write

On top of that Abbey and I are partners in a course called The Get More Clients Masterclass.

It’s LIT AF, as the kids say.


Abbey’s Freelance Co-op is nothing short of life-changing if you’re a freelancer who’s looking to get organize and actually run a REAL business. Click here to learn more about the Freelance Co-op.

Also, here’s Abbey’s website just for good measure: https://onlifeandwriting.com/

She’s an incredible email writer herself… and she’s a master of turning the small moments in her life into valuable nuggets of marketing, copywriting and LIFE wisdom.

Oh yeah, she’s also the foremost expert on voice, on pricing for freelancers, and like a million other things.


Just if you’re a copywriter, you need to get on her list.

Do it now.

Big Takeaways from the Capital One vs Donors Choose Email Cage Match

  1. Hero images might not always be a good idea.
  2. Write your copy to ONE person and make it feel that way.
  3. Emojis in subject lines can be effective if used strategically.
  4. Make your copy short, sweet and to the point.
  5. Don’t live 30,000ft above the Earth… bring your characters and stories down to ground level.
  6. When you use someone’s name, it makes things personal in a good way.
  7. Mr. Freedman makes a much stronger connection than “a middle school teacher.” Specific details always win.
  8. Draw their eyes to your copy, don’t waste valuable real estate.
  9. Emotions always win over logic.
  10. Try the Bourbon Mint Sweet Tea at Skinny Dennis. It’s pretty good.

What You Should Do Next

  1. Subscribe to my email list so you can get ALL of the Emails of the Week delivered straight to your inbox, automatically.
  2. Leave a comment for me below and let me know what you liked about this email.
  3. Send this breakdown to someone you know who has a physical product business. You might give them some inspiration to write an awesome “happy birthday” email automation.

1 thought on “[Email of the Week #29]: Donors Choose VS. Capital One”

  1. It’s also cool to think that Donor’s Choice created a personality to share for every day of the calendar year in order to do this. That’s a lot of work in order to say Happy Birthday in a unique way.

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