Anatomy of a Control: A Blend of Emotion and Reason
In the early years of this newsletter, guru Axel Andersson and I determined that if a mailing (with minor changes) was received for three consecutive years, it was eligible for an "Axel" Awarda hugely successful control that is raised into the pantheon of great mailings deemed worthy of serious study.
Such is the case with Mutual of Omaha's $10,000 term life insurance mailing of which we have three efforts over three years2000, 2001, 2002containing five elements, of which four are personalized. The printer is Moore Response in Illinois. Neither Mutual of Omaha nor Moore Response would comment on the package for publication, but a lot can be learned from close analysis of a three-year control.
Personalized Outer Envelope
All three versions have this request at bottom left: "Please Reply by [DATE]." However, it is fascinating to see the progressive changes on these 9-1/2" x 12" Kraft envelopes over the years.
The 2000 teaser copy shouts (in a serif typeface):
GUARANTEED LIFE INSURANCE--
Selected for California Residents
Born Between 1925 and 1955!"
The label is very simple. My hunch is the words "Life Insurance" in large type did not create immediate excitement and a desire to tear into the envelope and take advantage of the offer. I remember a Woody Allen film where he was on a work detail and his extra punishment was being consigned to an underground dungeon for three days with an insurance salesman, whereupon this nattily dressed man with a briefcase steps forward, proffers his hand to Allen and they go down into an underground bunker.
Life insurance is not a warm, fuzzy concept. Its basic message: "You're gonna die; you gotta take care of the people you love."
The 2001 and 2002 versions have the following teaser copy in a sans-serif typeface:
The fact that the offer is for life insurance appears on the label and is sandwiched in between two big promises: "Policy Status: Pre-Approved" and "Value: Up To $10,000."
Note the 2001 and 2002 labels, shown above. Clearly the 2002 version with its boldfaced, two-color type looks more important, more exciting, and is easier to read.
Notice, by the way, the amount is written out in full: $10,000.00dollars and centsgiving it more zeros and making it look more valuable than simply $10,000.
In red and on a slant at the upper-right corner of the form is an official looking stencil type: PRE-APPROVED.
Under it are the writer's initials in a blue handwritten scrawl that makes it seem personal. To fit in a 9" x 12" envelope, the 8" x 13" document has to be folded. All the elementsletter, circular and order formhave a short fold at the bottom. Could the copy have been cut slightly so it fit neatly without these curious folds at the bottom? Possibly. But when a package is a control for three years, you do not nit-pick.
The letter is personalized on the front page, but not on the back, with minimal use of color. In blue: Mutual of Omaha logo; checkmarks front and back to highlight benefits; Mutual of Omaha address at the bottom; signature; and the words "over, please" on the bottom.
The letter is simple, very personal and informalone person talking persuasively to another person.
The copy is entirely in typewriter typeprobably a Courierwhich immediately identifies the copy as the letter. So often in mailings the letter and circular are in a Times Roman font, so it is not easy to tell the two elements apart.
Right-brain people, who like their information on an emotional level, go for the letter first. Rational, analytical peopleleft-brain folksgo for the circular first. Using the same typeface in both letter and circular runs the risk of confusing the prospect. The secret of successful direct mail is to create a willing suspension of disbeliefmake it seem that a human hand has indeed touched the letter.
In the words of the late guru Dick Benson, "Letters should look and feel like letters." And with its typewriter type, and the blue signature on the back, this has the look and feel of having been personally typed with handwritten annotations.
And, despite its curious size and folds, this letter represents masterful copypowerful benefits piled on top of benefits. Best of all is receiving the face value as a refund when you reach age 100. This is brilliant. The copy does not say "IF you reach 100." Rather it says, "At age 100 when the coverage stops, you receive the full policy amount." The implication is that Mutual of Omaha fully expects you to reach 100, in which case the policy is really free. How can a rational, caring person say no? Especially when I get all my money back at age 100!
An 8" x 13" form with a short fold at the bottom is the nuts 'n' bolts of the policy. But it is eye-friendly. Unlike other policies, this has no off-putting mousetype disclaimers and footnotes in light gray. Only one footnoteeasily readabletalks about the very few exclusions (e.g., suicide within the first two years). But it ends with the reassuring sentence: "All premium payments, however, will be returned."
The brochure headline reads:
United of Omaha Life Insurance Company's
Graded Benefit Whole Life Insurance
$10,000 ... $7,000 ...
$5,000 ... $2,000
GUARANTEED LIFE INSURANCE
Here are two of the 13 most powerful words in the English Language: "easy" and "guaranteed." (The other 11: you, save, money, health, results, new, love, discovery, proven, safety and free.)
On the reverse is the cost of various face-value amounts$10,000.00, $7,000.00, $5,000.00 and 2,000.00with the cents included to make the amounts look bigger.
Where the letter is the personal, emotional pitch, the brochure is the rational or institutional approachin effect, a second member of the sales team who validates everything the letter writer promises, spelling out the offer in formal, impersonal terms including a box that reads: "Six Reasons to Buy this Insurance."
The typewriter type in the letter seems personal. The Times-Roman type on the brochure seems institutional, formal, impersonal. It says, basically, "See, everything the writer of the letter says is true!"
Personalized Application Form
The application is 8" x 14" in three colorsbrown at the top, yellow paper and black type with personalization.
Actually, there are two forms. The bottom one has the note: "Give to Spouse, Relative or Friend." It is simple, with 10 items to check or fill in (name and address are preprinted)sex, date of birth, social security number, amount of coverage desired, amount enclosed, beneficiary, signature and date. Also, it asks whether any existing policy will be changed as a result of this application.
Interestingly, the prospect must enclose paymentno credit card option, no bill me. Forcing the person to write a check on the spot no doubt cuts down on response, but brings in a better class of customer.
One of the old rules of direct mail was that the reply envelope should be slightly larger than the order form, so no folding is necessary. However, when a piece is entirely generated inline by computer and the various elements are the same width, the reply envelope must also be the same width (8" x 5") as the piece to be inserted, requiring a fold. In a three-year control, it is obvious that this rule is outmoded.
Interestingly, the most recent version of the reply envelope is personalized twice:
1) On the front, in the upper left with the customer's name and address
2) On the back, where it reads "THANK YOU [First Name, Last Name]."
This means the last thing you see when licking the envelope is your name. Clearly Mutual of Omaha cares.
In short, the more personalized touches you can put into a computer-generated mailing effort, the more real, honest and believable it seems. This goes for the copy (warm, non-insurance jargon in an insurance mailing) and the design (Courier type in the letter, colored signature, seemingly hand-applied checkmarks and hand-written note at the bottom of page one that reads "over, please"). The icing on the cake: a simple, non-threatening order form. This is clearly a masterpiece of its genre.
Denny Hatch, contributing editor, consultant and freelance copywriter, is the author of the books "Method Marketing" and (with Don Jackson) "2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success." Visit him online at wwwmethodmarketing.com.