Email showdown: Netflix vs. Hulu

McKenzie Gregory


Move over, cable. Streaming is officially king. And now that binge-watching hours upon hours of your favorite shows has become socially acceptable, services like Netflix and Hulu are an integral part of many people’s lives.

So of course we were curious: Between these two massive brands, who’s the better email marketer? Here’s what we found when we judged their email campaigns side-by-side.

(We’ll also kick this showdown off with a disclaimer: Neither of these brands give you the ability to sign up specifically for their email list. So we looked at the emails they send to current customers as well as with people who gave them their email address at some point during the trial signup process or cancelled their subscription.)




Something we immediately noticed: Netflix sends much, much less frequently than Hulu. On some level, it makes sense: With their firm position at the top of the totem pole (as of January 2016, they had 75 million subscribers versus Hulu’s 9 million), they don’t have to compete that hard to stay ahead.

Most of their email efforts seems to be focused on promoting their original content to customers. Since they have the massive budget needed to produce award-winning series like "House of Cards" and "Orange Is The New Black," it makes sense that they would draw the most attention to one of the biggest things setting them apart from the competition.

Their emails promoting those shows are pretty incredible – in just the small sample we looked at, Netflix did a ton of really interesting and innovative things with their email design.

In this send about the Netflix original series “Daredevil,” for instance, they incorporated a side-scrolling element in the mobile view of the email. That’s top-level stuff in the email marketing world, and it made for a really cool, engaging interaction on a smartphone.



And their email campaigns promoting "House of Cards" have been consistently awesome. The announcements themselves have pretty straightforward:



But leading up to the release of each new season, they’ve sent emails incorporating some really cool GIF action. (I dare you not to get chills from Frank’s menacing stare.)



Plus, Netflix is one of just a few big brands to experiment with cinemagraphs in email, and it’s made a huge splash in the email design community. Case in point: The virality and success of this email featuring Frank and Claire shows how powerful living photos can be in marketing campaigns as well as the massive talent possessed by the Netflix design team.



Our final assessment: While Netflix doesn’t send that often, the emails they do send truly make an impact.




Hulu, on the other hand, does a great job of communicating with their subscribers at all stages of the customer lifecycle. This clever email fires off whenever someone initates the process of signing up for their service but doesn’t complete it.



A fantastic header, a free trial offer, and a compelling list of reasons to finish subscribing make for a super effective email that catches customers they might have otherwise lost.

And their regular promotional sends look pretty sleek in the inbox, too. This one looks great on a mobile device and the downward scrolling action is much more intuitive than Netflix’s side-scrolling send.



Along with their higher volume of sends, Hulu also sends out a greater variety of content and promotions. While Netflix notifies their current subscribers about new shows or movies that might capture their interest, those emails tend to be very bare-bones (like that first "House of Cards" example). But Hulu sends in-depth, engaging emails about all of their newly available content.



And they pay much more attention to seasonality. This email fired off on Mother’s Day and offered up the top five “Mom Moment” clips from SNL. It was relevant, timely, and a provided a great way to promote one of their shows with interesting content.



This campaign of theirs (discussed on Twitter by email extraordinaire Justine Jordan) also captured our interest. It actually thanks Justine for cancelling her subscription – a seemingly odd choice, until you read on. They frame the cancellation as a teaching moment for their team, and use it as an opportunity to offer up a free trial of their commercial-free plan.



It’s an unusual strategy, and we’d be interested to see how well it ended up paying off for Hulu. But it definitely shows that they’re willing to try something out of the box to fulfill the needs of their subscribers and retain people’s loyalty.



The winner is…

So who wins this showdown? It’s an incredibly tough call that comes down to a choice between design and overall strategy.

While Netflix does some really cool things in their emails and is definitely helping pave the way for innovation in email design, Hulu puts more thought into their overall subscriber and customer experience.


Winner: Hulu 


About the Author

McKenzie Gregory

McKenzie Gregory is a senior content manager on Emma’s marketing team. A Nashville native, she can be found covering all things email on the Emma blog, debating hyphenation rules, and watching obscene amounts of Netflix without a trace of shame.

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