Anatomy of a Control: Survey Says ... Seventeen Finds Success With Six Simple QuestionsS
ince 1944, Seventeen magazine has been speaking to young women about issues that they hold dear: fashion, school, beauty, health, dating. And since the early '90s, the magazine has been enticing these teen readers with a control package that gives them the chance to speak for themselves.
When Jerry Roache, president of Shrewsbury, N.J.-based direct marketing agency Jerry Roache Direct, devised the package that would become the magazine's long-standing control some 12 years ago, he began with a simple concept: "You are going to get a teenager's opinion whether you want it or not," says Roache. "So we thought we would try to turn that to our
To harness that notion, Roache created a simple snap-pack mailing, which centers around a six-question "Girls Only National Opinion Survey" that tells prospects:
The editors at seventeen need your help. Please share your opinions with them.
The opinions in question revolve around what Roache believed teen girls were thinking about: friendship, movies, school, fashion and dating:
1. It's more important that the boys I date be ...
2. What is your favorite subject in school?
3. How many times have you seen your favorite movie?
4. How long have you known your best friend?
5. What is your date of birth?
6. Would you wear the hot new fashion even if you didn't like it?
"We tried to create questions that would be engaging," Roache recalls. But he also stresses that the subject matter of the questions was only part of the survey's success. Although these questions were created strictly from a marketing, rather than editorial, standpoint, they give the impression of inviting respondents to be part of the magazine's editorial process. "It gave these young ladies the opportunity to feel heard," asserts Roache. "And it showed them that Seventeen did understand where they were coming from."
To complement its official tone, the survey was placed into a snap-pack format. The snap pack also allowed Roache to keep the cost of the package down, which was very important in the test because the control it was going up against was simple and cost-effective. "We did not want to come in with a package that was so much more expensive that we would need a 20- or 30-percent lift to make it break even," recalls Roache. "And with the questionnaire, we had a reason for going with that more official format."
The simple, two-color outer introduced the survey within and teased of two free gifts for recipients who fill out that survey:
National Opinion Survey, Girls only! Please tell us what you think about guys, clothes, friendships, school, movies, dating and more. We'll say thank you with 2 free gifts plus more!
The free gifts were an issue of Seventeen and an issue of Seventeen's special supplement, "It's Your Room." The package also included a fast fifty, but according to Roache, there was no real magic to the premium offer. "We did different test cells with different offers at different times, but there was nothing that was any particular magic. We just went with whatever the control offer at the time was, and we didn't get any breakthrough as a result of that."
Return to Me
Immediately after creating the package, Roache knew it would be a success. But what he did not realize was that it would one day show up in his own mailbox.
Ten years had passed, Seventeen had been sold to publisher Primedia, Roache's contacts all had moved on, and he had no idea what had become of the survey package. "When I wrote that package, my oldest daughter was 3 years old. ... One day, when my daughter was 13, she got the package in the mail; it was 6" x 9", but the creativethe outer envelope, the teaserwas the same, the questions were the same, word-for-word."
That was two years ago. In May 2003, Hearst Communications acquired Primedia's teen titles, including Seventeen magazine and its long-standing survey control.
According to Joe Figiel, senior promotions manager for Hearst, the control at the time was a 6" x 9" envelope with that same official-looking, two-color design with a rotating premium offer. In addition, the package featured a freemium of personalized address labels. Hearst began testing the package, and it evolved to a #10 with the same design and package components.
A Fresh Look
Subsequent testing, Figiel says, has led Hearst to make additional package tweaks, which it rolled out at the end of 2004. The address label freemium has been replaced with a sheet of butterfly tattoos, and the premium offer is a free makeup bag. Hearst also added a fast fifty of a "Polaroid i-Zone Instant Pocket Camera Kit."
Hearst made some changes to the outer as well, cutting the size down to 4-1/4" x 8-1/2"; taking the design away from the official, two-color look to a pink, orange, blue and green floral pattern; and adding a yellow sticker promoting the i-Zone camera fast fifty. The copy on the outer remains the same, save for two mentions of the camera. The same is true of the survey within; other than copy highlighting the fast fifty, makeup bag premium and tattoo freemium, the copy on the survey has not changed.
Another tweak Hearst made further plays up the concept that the survey questions invite prospects to become involved in the editorial process: The back of the BRE now reads, "Your answers are a big help!"
And even though the survey was not designed with editorial in mind, that statement is no lie. The surveyand its respondents' answershas been a staple of Seventeen's acquisition campaign for 12 years and counting. And with a circulation of 14.45 million readers, it seems those efforts are paying off.
With a prospect base that turns over about every three years, this control will remain effective as long as these questions continue to resonate with teens. And for Roache's money, that will be the case for years to come.
"It is remarkable how timeless those questions are," says Roache. "They are about 12 years oldand they still work. Times change, but people don't. And these issues will still be relevant to girls a hundred years from now."