The Email Marketing Time Machine

Jan 19, 2024

Paul Shriner

Back to all posts

Marketers love the promotions tab now, with all of the hullabaloo around deliverability and the inbox, any good email marketers will be rewarded by staying in the promotions tab. A badge of courage for doing the right thing. With that said, it is fascinating when I compare my most recent article with one I wrote in 2013 about the promotions tab. This is a time machine. When I compare the artwork,

  • Both have a cartoon character, one a shark, and one a unicorn
  • One has a sunset and one has a rainbow
  • Pirate ship vs. talking spam in the foreground, are not the same but are both cultural icons.

In 2013, Gmail pushed down the promotions tab and in 2024, Gmail and Yahoo pushed down additional sending guidelines. The same type of event from the mailbox providers and the same kind of response from the email community.

The history of the promotions tab

The year was 2013, eleven years ago. Gmail, the largest mailbox provider (we were still calling them ISPs, for those that remember), was about to launch a new feature, the promotions tab. While all of your friends were planning on how their church group would integrate the Harlem Shake into the church service, you were focused on how to keep your email out of the promotions tab. The buzz got so intense that I wrote this little article for the AudiencePoint blog. Did we drive traffic to this article in the “hundreds” of readers, YES WE DID! I wrote the article in response to the energy.

The response from the email marketing community was people were sending emails to their readers instructing them on how to be in the inbox and not the promotions tab, like wearing and old pair of boots that fit just right.

Current climate

Fast forward 11 years. Tools that make searching for new cold email addresses are cheap and everywhere. Artificial Intelligence generates good content, quickly, and everyone’s inbox is laden with unwanted content. I wrote a filter that Identified AI-generated content and auto-responded to those AI-generated emails with the following.

Why did I do that? I was tired of getting all of this garbage email. You know who else noticed, Google and Yahoo as they launched their new deliverability rules to limit these same kind of cold, uninvited emails. The emails that generated this response are going to go away to the SPAM folder, and with it a whole lot of similarly sourced and written emails.

Last minute update to this article: The amazing thing is that my response generated a response. I was about to hit publish and then this happened which captures what Gmail and Yahoo are trying to prevent.

I replied to this response with information about the new rules from Gmail and Yahoo with a link to my last article.

Training users

After a very informal survey the general perspective is that Google and Yahoo’s new feature will train users to click the “Report Spam” button. Similar to how users were trained to go to the Promotions tab to find their “deals”, users will be trained to engage more and more with the Report Spam button and that will make this feature more and more powerful.

The short-term future

Cold outreach is not going to go away, but it is going to get harder. Cold emailers will find smarter and smarter ways to evade restrictions. They are going to create sister domains ( and CNAME senders ( They are going to send small batches of emails burning as lot of IP addresses in their wake, and the response to that is going to be tighter and tighter restrictions from the same mailbox providers.

The quest for the primary inbox?

While doing research for this article, I stumbled upon article after article teaching cold-outreach emailers how to hit the primary inbox which is the section of your email account where personal emails flow. One article offered 17 easy steps on how to evade Gmail restrictions.

To the victor goes the spoils.

The good news is that for the email marketer who is doing all the things right, their email is staying in the promotions tab unscathed. A place in 2013 that was predicted to be the end of email, and now a place where consumers have been trained to go and get deals.

A Chinese fable, becuase why not?

Alan Watts gave lectures around the United States and shared this old folktale of a Chinese farmer:

Once upon a time, there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer said “Maybe.” The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!” the farmer again said, “Maybe.”

The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and again the farmer responded, “Maybe.” The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!” Again, he said, “Maybe.”

Alan Watts

When the promotions tab was launched, we all lost our ever-loving minds because it was the end of our careers as we knew them. We screamed, “That is most unfortunate.” Chris Marriott of Email Connect said, “Maybe.” The promotions tab worked out, and the industry continued to grow, “how fantastic!” the email marketers shouted, Chris again said, “Maybe,” because the onslaught of list-gen and AI-generated content flooded the inbox creating an environment where consumers didn’t want to check their email. The marketers screamed, “This is horrible,” Chris again said, “Maybe.” Then Google and Yahoo launched new rules making it harder for email to be delivered, all shouted, this is terrible news. I wonder what Chris will say?


Chris Marriott Email Connect

Email is still king, long live the king.

Why am I still so bullish on email? It is cheap, open, and growing.

Email is still nearly free to send

While the rules around email marketing are getting more complicated, the cost is still “free.” The cost of sending an email equates to renting an MTA for a fraction of a fraction of a second.There is certainly a lot of scaffolding that can be built around email in regards to content creation, customer journey, and conversion, but the email itself is very, very inexpensive. Compare the cost of email to social, display, or pay-per-click, all of which incur an incremental cost for successful marketing efforts.

It is an open-playing field

No one controls email, honestly, there aren’t even referees. You can send anything you want to anyone you want for the cost of access to the internet. Now if you want your email to be delivered to email inboxes, you will have to follow the rules that identify who you are, conform to a messaging standard, and demonstrate that you don’t have a history of being difficult.

More and more email is being sent

It is indisputable that more and more email is being sent and engaged with. In the retail season of 2023, AudiencePoint loaded more engagement data into our data pool that any other previous year. That number is not scientific. We did control for the number of brands contributing, but nothing else. The bottom line, more engagement data means that our industry is growing. The industry is growing because it is driving revenue.


The promotions tab was a gift. It allowed marketers to separate the good guys from the bad guys, however as marketers, we didn’t think so at the time. With the contrast of the two articles, you can see the similarities.

Email is a channel. It drives revenue. A lot of revenue. As long as customers look to that channel to buy things, that revenue will continue to exist. Once customers stop engaging with email you will start to see more and more companies spend their budges on different channels. Until then, we will see more and more rules limiting who is allowed into the inbox. EMBRACE these rules, the more confident consumers are with email, the longer and more fruitful the channel will be, maybe.