I’ve seen this trick used by a few senders recently, with varying effectiveness.
Where do they get these pictures?
While you can scatter any images you like across the body of your message, the subject line is limited to just text. But “text” is more than just “a, b, c” – using RFC 2047 encoding you can use any character you like, including many tiny pictures.
⛄ 💰 🐘 ✈ 🎁 ☂
Finding the right glyph can be tricky. Macs have a fairly decent glyph search engine (under Edit > Special Characters… in most applications) while Windows has a fairly mediocre one (Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Character Map > Advanced View). Both are missing some useful features, though, so I put together something better.
emailstuff.org/glyph lets you search for glyphs by name. It’ll tell you about related glyphs (“helicopter” and “airplane”, or “package” and “wrapped present”) which can help you find the right image when you don’t know it’s name. And, once you’ve chosen a glyph, it shows how to use it in various encodings (if you’re using a GUI tool or a web form to compose your emails you can probably just copy and paste, but it’s handy for manually editing messages when your composition tool isn’t unicode-friendly).
Will all your recipients be able to see these glyphs? All mail clients support utf-8 text and this sort of encoding so the only issue is whether the recipient has a font installed with the glyph in it. That’s operating system specific, rather than depending on the web browser or mail client, so if you want to test – and you probably should – you can get away with just Windows and OS X for desktop, iOS and Android for mobile.
Have fun! But don’t overdo it.