Interactive email, trend or not?

Written by Wilbert Heinen

There are a lot of trends. It makes sense, considering how incredibly dynamic we are. But what is the background of these trends? And what trends should an email marketer be watching? We’ll start with interactive email, which according to many people is an inescapable trend and interactivity will soon take flight in email marketing. Are they right?

The possibilities of interactive emails

Interactivity in email (also called Kinetic Email, though they’re not entirely the same) is a technology that makes it possible to activate an event within the email through the actions of the recipient within the email.

Think for instance of an image carousel, a hamburger menu, tool tips, Advent calendars, games, such as Sonic and Mine Sweeper, forms, in-email videos, etc. I’ve even seen a complete check-out form for placing an order! And it’s all done in email.

Apart from these possibilities, there were predictions of being able to use interactive emails in the future to carry out the checkout process and track your order. This means the recipient doesn’t click to go to the website or a landing page, but stays in the email. Fewer steps and fewer thresholds!




There are plenty of technical challenges. Considering the HTML and CSS for adding interaction in emails can quickly get complex and sizeable and you also have to stay under 100 kb (which is the weight of the rendered HTML and CSS excluding image weight), it’s quite the challenge. You also have to ensure good fall-back for the so-called static email clients, such as Outlook on a Desktop for instance. Thankfully, there are tools, such as this one by @freshinbox.

According to Rebelmail’s Mark Robbins, support for interactive email can be divided into 3 categories: static, limited and interactive. Static email clients do not support interactive emails at all, limited email clients support a form of interactivity and interactive email clients completely support it, allowing you to work with things like CSS animations.

The division is as follows, and is based on the total number of opens according to

  • Static: 36% (Gmail*, Gmail App, Outlook op Desktop,, Windows Mail)
  • Limited: 3% (Yahoo/Altaba, AOL and Android Gingerbread and Honeycomb)
  • Interactive: 61% (iOS, Apple Mail and Android Ice Cream Sandwich and more recent)

*Unfortunately Gmail no longer supports the :checked status since supporting id’s, classes and media queries, meaning you can no longer apply interactivity to emails in Gmail through the :checked status. However, you can implement a form of interactivity for Gmail using the :hover status.

Does interactivity serve your purpose?

Apart from the technology and the fact that it’s cool and it’s educational experience to build it, it’s good to ask yourself whether you’re really adding value for your recipients. Email is simply a different channel than the web, and has other requirements. We can try to incorporate all kinds of functions in email that are pretty standard on the web, but does it serve your email’s purpose?

You may be familiar with the discussion in the email community on whether or not you should add a menu in your email header. Where one might claim this is part of the brand identity and/or generates a lot of clicks, another may claim this is only a distraction from your actual call to action and/or indicates your content simply isn’t relevant enough.

Interactive emails have similar challenges. It should always support your message or goal, and shouldn’t be added just because you can. Or to quote Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park:

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

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