Better Than the Real Thing?
While a few people receiving this self-mailer from EarthLink might look at its graphics and testimonials and think nothing of them, others might pick up on something right away.
For starters, the testimonials are very specific. Each one highlights a distinct benefit offered by EarthLink and why it works for the person(s) speaking. In addition, the people featured in the photos look, well, almost too perfect.
For those in the know, these testimonials come off as being orchestrated, consisting of fake copy and graphics that present the precise message EarthLink needs to relay to effectively sell its service.
Featuring four Polaroid-like snapshot graphics accompanied by "testimonials," this three-panel self-mailer is designed to connect with a wide range of recipients (837EARTHL0604). Included in the piece is: a single woman who often uses online auction sites; a mother and her daughters working at the family bakery; a suburban close-knit family; and a casually dressed business man who works from home and the office. The quote under each photo speaks specifically about EarthLink's service benefitssuch as speed, security, Spyware Blocker and Pop-up Blockerwhich those people represented would find beneficial. Also, this effort is promoting a $29.95 per month special price for six months.
No doubt, this effort clearly and precisely interprets all the benefits and services EarthLink wants explaineda feat that can be difficult when promoting an intangible product such as high-speed Internet access. But, does it perform better than efforts with genuine photos and quotes?
A representative from EarthLink was unavailable for comment. However, Carol Worthington-Levy, creative partner for Lenser, a direct marketing consultancy in San Rafael, Calif., offered her opinion. She says that while many organizations employ royalty-free stock art and create testimonial copy to easily suit their needs, she's not sold on the idea that it's a better option, regardless of the type of product promoted.
"Testimonials are a wonderful thing," she says. "But if it doesn't come across sincere, it can backfire. People from different populations like to be marketed to, but they prefer it in an honest way. The fatal flaw in using stock photos is that people really can recognize they're being snookered ... especially if they see those same photos appear somewhere else!"
She adds that it is not as difficult as some in the industry might believe to acquire strong and specific testimonials from a client base.
"If EarthLink has an agency or structure in place to gather real testimonials, they might have well been able to use the real thing, and the value of that is much higher," she says. "Even if feedback from a survey is not specific, there is nothing shameful in calling that customer and coaxing them in an honest way to get a detailed response. In fact, people are proud that they are being featured in a catalog, magazine or mailer and often do not mind."
Unfortunately, Worthington-Levy says some creative teams are not given permission to call a customer or do not have
access to the information that would allow them to do so.
Although it is inevitable that some recipients of this mailing will detect an orchestration on the part of EarthLink to sell its services, one thing is for sure: This mailing details benefits in a way that is easy to read, easy to identify with and easy to understand. Not to mention, it offers an easy-to-swallow price promotion that is sure to catch the eye of those paying much more for the same services elsewhere.
Sharon R. Cole
Sharon R. Cole is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer who serves the print industry.