The Decline and Fall of Competent Direct Mail Why credit card mailings are bombingAugust 2006 By Denny Hatch
In the NewsCard Firms Curb Mailings—a Bit
The piles of credit-card offers that clog American mailboxes may start to taper off. Since the early 1990s, the volume of credit-card solicitations mailed to U.S. consumers has soared, with card companies last year sending out more than six billion offers, according to market-research firm Synovate, a unit of Aegis Group PLC. But the pitches have been losing effectiveness. Just three out of every 1,000 offers generated a response last year, down from about 28 per 1,000 in 1992.
—David Enrich, The Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2006
Last week a The New York Times headline about the passing of George Wetherill, 80, described him as an “Expert on Dating of Rocks.” Did dating of rocks mean determining their age? Or did he study people who liked to take rocks out to dinner and a movie? Either way, I wasn’t interested enough in his life and career to read on.
Nor am I real interested in people who spend their lives in the credit card business—the delivery of financial nicotine to consumers who’ve been sucked into having 12.7 credit cards per household and $800 billion in revolving debt.
Now, response to credit card direct mail offers is so poor—an average of just 3 orders per 1,000 as opposed to 28 per 1,000 in 1998—that the card purveyors are cutting back on mail and looking for other marketing techniques.
The financial services community is blaming the low response to mail on the avalanche of offers and the fact that many consumers have more cards than they need.
Having spent 15 years amassing an archive of direct mail samples and perusing tens of thousands of offers, I know why response is down.
The letters are lousy, with the content dictated by lawyers and then created by Neanderthals who don’t have a clue what they’re doing and who are psychologically incapable of making an emotional connection with the reader.
In the world of junk mail, financial services mailings are the worst junk of all.
It wasn’t always the case.
The American Express Platinum Card
My association with American Express goes back to the 1950s when my father was hired to write the company’s official corporate history. During those years the then-president, Ralph T. Reed, and his wife, Edna, used to spend summers at the Rockaway Hunt Club next door to us on Long Island, and during one of those summers—thanks to Reed putting in a good word—I worked as a mail boy at American Express corporate headquarters in downtown Manhattan.
I’ve been an American Express cardmember since 1964. When I was offered a Gold Card at a relatively young age, I immediately accepted the offer, proud as a peacock at having been raised to that exalted status of respectability.
My wife, Peggy, and I started the newsletter, Who’s Mailing What! in 1984—right around the time American Express launched its Platinum Card with what was no doubt one of the top 10 direct mail campaigns in history in terms of copy, design and irresistible elegance.
Takeaway Points to Consider:* ”Of all the formats used in direct mail, none has more power to generate action than the letter.”
*”The tone of a good direct mail letter is as direct and personal as the writer’s skill can make it. Even though it may go to millions of people, it never orates to a crowd, but rather murmurs into a single ear. It’s a message from one letter writer to one letter reader.”
* ”For direct mail copy to work, it must have verisimilitude. Verisimilitude is the appearance of truth. Raw truth has weeds in it; verisimilitude is an unblemished garden.”
—Herschell Gordon Lewis
* ”Never use an asterisk in direct response copy.”
—Herschell Gordon Lewis
* ”You cannot bore people into buying. The average family is now exposed to more than 1,500 advertisements a day. No wonder they have acquired a talent for skipping the advertisements in newspapers and magazines, and going to the bathroom during television commercials.”
* ”The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife.”
Web Sites Related to Today's Edition:The Official Site of Herschell Gordon Lewis
Dick Hodgson’s Legacy
David Ogilvy Quotations