Credit Card Marketers Try Hand at Freemiums
Ask a random sample of consumers what type of direct mail they receive most often, and credit card mailings likely would be the top answer. According to Synovate, a market research firm that offers mail-tracking services for the credit card industry out of its Tarrytown, NY, office, credit card mail volume slowed its upward trend in 2002, tallying 4.89 billion efforts; but while that's a drop from the record high of 5.01 billion efforts in 2001, it's still enough mail to inundate the more than 291 million U.S. citizensespecially if you discount children.
Given that credit card marketers have their work cut out for them in getting their efforts noticed, it was just a matter of time until one of them tried a freemium. Years ago, First USA was one of the first banks to incorporate a premium into its acquisition offers, and the rest of the industry followed suit.
Now that premiums and customized cards are passé, MBNA has come out with a simple window-cling decal to stir up interest. In the July mail stream, the Who's Mailing What! Archive pulled in a mailing of access checks to PlatinumPlus card holders that included an American flag window decal (550MBNACO0703). Research of the Archive's recent bank retention efforts turned up no other retention mailings using freemiums.
Instead, a search of affinity card efforts from MBNA produced three acquisition efforts that promoted logo window decals as freebiesone for L.L. Bean (541MBNACO0503J), one for BoatU.S. (541MBNACO0503K), and one for Rutgers University (541MBNACO1002D). The effort for the Rutgers University Alumni Federation PlatinumPlus Visa dates back to October 2002, demonstrating this technique's staying power. And all three efforts promoted the freemium somewhere on their outer envelopes.
MBNA did not return calls, so we solicited insight on this mailing from Andrew Davidson, vice president of competitive tracking at Synovate, who checked his mail-tracking service's collection for more examples. In addition to the affinity card efforts in the Archive, Davidson found a similar use of window decals in affinity card efforts from MBNA for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Fraternal Order of Police. Other finds included the same access checks effort (only it was received in June) and a few credit card acquisition efforts that offered sticker freemiums.
These window-cling decals (plastic squares that use static to cling to a window's inside) are the modern-day equivalent of the sticker decal, such as those used by AAA and The Sierra Club. Prices hover around $28/M for these static-cling versions; check out vendors Finn-Line, Deluxe Frame and Advertape.
The decal used in the access checks mailing effort plays up the mailing's Fourth of July/summer theme with an American flag graphic upon which the word "America" is emblazoned in gold, capital letters.
Save for the freemium, the 3-3/4" x 7-1/2" envelope package is rather plain. A red and white design scheme adorns the outer envelope, letter and access checks. A single-page letter positions the checks as a means to fund summertime activities and projects, with a small mention of their use to transfer balances from other accounts.
This letter also sports some variable data that allows MBNA to test different messages and APRs. This customized information shows through a large glassine window on the front of the envelope, affecting response from the get-go.
Since MBNA started using these decals on the acquisition end first, Davidson wonders if their appearance in this retention effort is a test. Typically, customers open whatever mail their bank sends them, he explains, so it's unusual to see a freemium used in this kind of effort.
But if the goal is to get the checks used, then perhaps a little old-fashioned guilt is being wielded in the form of an upfront premium.