Amnesty International's Powerhouse of Guilt
When you see a mailing over and over, it is clearly a big, successful winner and worth examining in great detail.
Such is the case with the Amnesty International "Severe Crisis" effort, which arrives in a plain white, window envelope with the old-fashioned red, white and blue "airmail border" and a metered indicia. While the window does indicate that it is a "mass mailing," the metered indicia gives it a First-Class look; the average consumer won't notice the postage is the non-profit rate of 9.3 cents.
On the back flap is simply the address: 322 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10021. You have to open the envelope to see who this mailing comes from.
The Energizer Bunny of Leads
The four-page letter has no letterhead, other than the Amnesty logo of a red candle with barbed wire snaking around it. It starts simply:
I regret to inform you that we are faced with a severe crises here at Amnesty International.
In plain English:
Our lifesaving Urgent Action Network to help prisoners of conscience and others threatened with torture or death is literally staggering under the weight of human emergencies.
However, you are not being asked to picket a prison in a foreign country, or attend a freedom demonstration, or in any way put yourself in jeopardy.
...you can help us , quietly but effective, right there in your own home.
According to Michael Rooney of Craver Mathews Smith, a Falls Church, VA, direct marketing agency that specializes in nonprofits, this same lead has been working for seven to eight years, while the mailing itself, in various iterations, is about 15 years old. Originally written, Rooney believes, by either Roger Craver himself or the late Dale Richards, it does a masterful job of hitting the key emotional copy driver of guilt, guilt and more guilt.
By paragraph three you are made aware of many human emergencies. By paragraph four, you are told you don't have to put your life on the line the way these "prisoners of conscience and others are threatened." Rather, "you can help us, quietly but effectively, right there in your own home."
What follows are a series of heart-rending quotes from a prisoner named Constantinothus personalizing the letter in a very real wayas well as horrific descriptions of human torture and degradation around the world.
One very powerful phrase on page three:
We deeply believe that: "The free must remember the forgotten."
Off-Setting "Hot Potatoes"
Two extra freemium elements are included:
* An Amnesty International decal of black and white with a gold candle that adds cost to the package and is a wash in terms of raising response. Amnesty goes with it because it is felt this decal on a home or car window gets the message out.
* In 1994, a "Hope Card" was addeda little card that contains the following message in five languages:
Do not be discouraged. You are not forgotten.
The point of this card is described in the P.S. of the letter:
P.S. Please let me repeat just two things. First, if you'll sign your name to the enclosed "Message of Hope" card, I'll do my best to see that it gets to a prisoner of conscience who is being tortured, or detained, or possibly facing death.
(And even if the card never actually reaches the prisoner, when the jailers or those responsible are deluged with a flood of these cards, they are going to realize they are no longer operating in secret. The word is out. Their prisoner is in the public eye. This could result in freedom or better conditions for the prisoner.
The inclusion of the card has an immediate and dramatic effect on response; it serves as what the late Walter Weintz called a "hot potato" (e.g., a token, a penny or a dime, a freemiumany kind of device that the person has to think twice about before throwing away).
According to Rooney, the mailing also has contained personalized return labels, but it was found that these donors did not renew as well; after doing the math, they were discontinued. Amnesty International now can mail more pieces for less money and get higher quality donors.
Asking for the Donation
The order card is printed in red and black, and has boxes with suggested amounts from $10 to $500, with a box at the end for "Other $____." On the mailings we have seen, the $25 amount was circled and beneath it in handwriting that has been highlighted with a yellow marker is the line:
A GIFT IN THIS AMOUNT IS URGENTLY NEEDED!
On the back of the form is the option to charge your gift to a credit card and a ton of mousetype describing how to get the latest financial report. Normally, mousetype in a mailing is off puttingas in, for example, the myriad disclaimers on credit card offers and insurance efforts. Here, on the other hand, Amnesty International is flat out telling the prospective donor that it is registered with the attorneys general in many, many states, thus giving the entire proposition great legitimacy.
Standing the Test of Time
This double-barreled assault of guilt and urgency is gloriously effective. After 15 years, the mailing averages a one-percent response with an average gift of $27 to $28.
Obviously, this is an acquisition mailing; you can't continue to send existing donors this same package over and over again and have it be believable.
Craver Mathews Smith tested seven packages against it last year, and all came up short.
Clearly, this is a powerhouse.
Denny Hatch, consultant and freelance copywriter, founder of Who's Mailing What! (now Inside Direct Mail) is the author of "Method Marketing" and "2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success." He can be reached at www.methodmarketing.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.