The Best in 2012 Election Mail

There’s a lot at stake in the 2012 elections besides the obvious prize — the White House. So we here at DMIQ decided to look at the direct mail sent out by political campaigns in 2011, to see what’s working and what may be ahead in 2012. And why not? We’ve had a long history covering the direct mail of political campaigns.

Beginning way back in 1984, the second-ever issue of our predecessor newsletter, then titled Who’s Mailing What!, featured a critique of Republican efforts by liberal fundraiser Roger Craver. The first part of his “Dollars For Democracy” article still resonates very strongly today in its section “Why People Give to Politics.” (If you’d like, just ask and I can send you a PDF of it in its entirety.)

To summarize his analysis, political direct mail contributors are not the “fat cats” who expect favors or budget earmarks in exchange for money, but “donors of principle.” These are people who don’t need to be persuaded about the rightness of a candidate, party or issue, but can be motivated to donate by a mailer’s copy and design.

According to Craver, the best direct mail packages are those that include one or more of these factors in how the copy is written:
a) a sense of mission or challenge;
b) a sense of selectivity, or exclusivity that flatters the recipient;
c) a sense of urgent need that gets the contributor to give ASAP; and
d) a sense of continuity and effectiveness that acknowledges the power of the opponent but also reassures victory if a donation is made soon.

Direct mail efforts logged by the Who’s Mailing What! Archive were evaluated based on a variety of factors, including how well they embodied Craver’s criteria, and appeals to the main emotional copy drivers (fear, anger, greed, flattery, salvation, envy, guilt). Package design, impact on the tumultuous political year, and longevity were also considered.

Paul Bobnak is the research/content director for Direct Marketing IQ, the research arm of NAPCO Media's Target Marketing Group. Since 1998, he's also been the archivist at Who's Mailing What!, which houses the most complete, searchable and fully online library of direct mail and email in the world. He has read and analyzed thousands of direct mail packages (offers, copy, designs, incentives and formats) in more than 200 industry categories, including nonprofits, retail, insurance, telecom, B-to-B, financial services and publishing. He writes for the e-newsletters Who’s Mailing What! Report and eM+C Weekly, and has been a judge in NonProfit PRO's Gold Awards for Fundraising Excellence since 2006. Reach him at or on Twitter at @PaulBobnak.

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