Do Prospects Know Who's Talking?
Telling consumers they have been selected for a free club membership has always been a great way to boost interest and to get them to open your mailing. American Cellars Wine Club (ACWC) knows this and has been using such a tactic in its direct mail packages for years.
As a continuity club, ACWC delivers two bottles of wine each month to members' homes. The club delivers the wine at a cost of about $12 per bottle, and with the prospects' first shipment sends a free giftan insulated wine tote that holds two bottles, an ice pack holder, a cork screw, a cheese knife and a cutting board. All of these items are the member's to keep even if he decides to cancel his membership.
Since the first time the Archive received the ACWC mailing in 1998, the club has been using the membership card concept and selling the idea that the recipient is now a member of an exclusive club. The card, visible through a clear window in the 6" x 11" envelope (363AMCEWC0701X) displays images of wine, cheese and breaditems that likely appeal to a consumer's desire to be an Epicurean or at least imply that the reader appreciates the finer things in life.
ACWC does an excellent job of playing up the exclusivity angle, and the package certainly appeals to consumers who consider themselves wine connoisseurs. For example, the club asks readers to sign up for its "charter membership." It also offers members the opportunity to serve on its "Gold Medal Award Panel." Joining the panel then gives members the opportunity to receive free wine that they can taste and rate. Those ratings are then combined with the ratings of other Gold Medal Award panelists, posted in the club's newsletter, and are eventually used to award a certain wine with a gold medal.
One rather curious element of the mailing is that the sales and lift letters have been signed by seemingly unknown personsthat is to say where the specific titles of the signees are usually included right after the signature, ACWC has omitted that information. While the letters hint to readers that the signees are ACWC employees, it is never made clear who these people are and what their functions are at the company. This may not seem like a big deal, but for the majority of consumers who simply skim the letters, this lack of information might take away some of the message's credibility. Since ACWC declined to comment, we can neither confirm nor dispute these inferences, however, in our opinion a loss of credibility is a distinct possibility.
Another interesting aspect is that there is no opportunity for customers to reply to a "bill me later" option. We can infer that the reason a continuity club would only send shipment after payment has been made is because of differing state alcohol laws, since some states may not allow shipment of alcohol that is not paid for. Another possibility is that the club uses the credit card to check the legal age of the person who ordered the wine. A third reason might be to protect the club from paying for shipping costs on wine that is returned.
Other elements included in the mailing are an order form with check boxes for wine preferences, an opportunity to sign up for the Gold Medal Award Panel, a section mapping out the benefits charter members receive and the ACWC I.D. card. In addition, the package contains an insert about the Gold Medal Award Panel; an insert for free wine giveaways; an insert about the assortment of wines offered through the club; an insert for the wine tote premium; a postage paid BRE; a sales letter; and a lift letter. The headline for the lift letter: "Read this only if you have decided not to accept charter membership." Inside we find that the letter is from a gentleman in charge of customer service (again, you would only know this if you read the letter in full) and he wants to let you know that he is disappointed and puzzled by your lack of interest in the club. This type of letterespecially the terminology usedis classic in direct mail. The only element that makes this one slightly different is that the writer offers the reader the opportunity to call the writer personally. Interestingly enough, however, no telephone number is given in the letter, although there is an 800 number frequently seen in the package.
Despite a few questionable elements, the package appears to be working for ACWC, since the Archive has witnessed little change in the club's mailings during the past three years.