Cartoons in the Mail: How to Make Them a Success
A few months ago, while researching how humor is used in direct mail, I found some examples of an art form that was deserving of its own consideration: the cartoon.
It's a tactic that pops up only rarely in the mail collected by Who's Mailing What!, the world's most complete library of direct mail and email. But the instances where it has been part of a campaign are proof it can engage prospects, that is, once marketers get past their reluctance to run against the conventional wisdom that humor doesn't work.
The Cleaning Authority, a national housecleaning service, has used a comic book-style graphic on the front panel of one of its folded brochures for several years (see the first image in the media player). The screaming lettering ("THE WRONG PEOPLE ARE CLEANING YOUR HOUSE") and the wide-eyed woman complaining about cleaning evoke Roy Lichtenstein's art, as well as a chuckle.
Subscription mailings for two political magazines, The American Prospect and In These Times (see the second image in the media player) have showcased art from the alt-weekly comic strip "This Modern World" to reach out to their liberal target audiences.
To cartoonist Stu Heinecke, president of CartoonLink, mailings like these work because they answer the question, "What is the truth revealed?" Or put another way, how does it bolster the overall message of your mailing? For The Cleaning Authority, it's probably that many people hate housework with a passion, and therefore, this company offers plans to solve the problem. For the two magazines, the art supports their positioning as non-corporate voices of the Left. If the prospects laugh and nod their heads in agreement, you're on safe ground.
One criticism: the lack of personalization. However successful these mailings may be, Heinecke says, "no personalization means they missed a great opportunity" to connect with a customer or reader "on an even more personal level." And he should know. Several campaigns featuring his personalized cartoons on the outer envelope, as well as inside, were among the first Grand Control mailings (in the mail for 3 years or more) recognized by Who's Mailing What! more than 20 years ago. Since then, many others have worked as well across a wide variety of industries.
In his book, "Drawing Attention", a primer on how to use cartoons in all aspects of marketing, advertising, personal contact campaigns and social media, Heinecke lays out some rules on cartoon use (besides revealing truth) that have led to incredible response rates for his clients over the years.
- The recipient always wins. In a double-postcard Heinecke mailing for the American Diabetes Association (see the third image in the media player), prospective members are flattered by a series of panels that recognizes their commitment to defeating a disease. They become heroes, part of the story ADA is trying to tell about the work its supporters make possible.
- Focus on the recipient, not the brand. In a New Yorker mailing (see the fourth image in the media player) that beat the old control, the subscriber's name was dropped into the caption for the cartoon. By not being about selling a subscription to the magazine, the cartoon, in effect, sold the prospect on subscribing.
With the right resources (artists, sales copy) and the right sense of humor, a cartoon — especially a personalized one — can be a powerful direct mail tool.
Paul Bobnak is the director of research at Who's Mailing What!, which houses the most complete, searchable (and fully online) library of direct mail and mail in the world. To learn more about joining, go to www.whosmailingwhat.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.