Famous Last Words: What Are They Thinking?
For years, I’ve run a small ad in this publication offering a free critique of an ad or a direct mail package. Obviously, the purpose is to troll for clients.
At this juncture in my life—with a twice a week e-zine (www.businesscommonsense.com), this monthly column and a curious promotional vehicle called List Insider—I’m not interested in taking on new clients. But the ad continues to run. The reason: I love to see what people are doing.
When someone sends me a piece for critique, I don’t say whether it is good or bad, nor do I say whether or not I like it. As I will say to anyone, “You can’t judge good direct marketing; it judges you.”
By that I mean, if a mailing effort or an off-the-page ad works—brings in customers at an acceptable cost-per-order or, more importantly, a profitable lifetime value—it’s successful. It matters not whether I like it, or whether it’s pretty or ugly.
When my wife, Peggy, and I started the giant archive of direct mail samples (www.whosmailingwhat.com/trial/tm), which has grown to more than 190,000 pieces in nearly 200 categories going back 12 years, the object was to see which mailings came in again and again. These are the controls; it was my job to reverse engineer them, figure out why they were controls, and pass this information—as I saw it—to the readers of our newsletter, Inside Direct Mail.
In analyzing these controls, it’s apparent that successful packages obey certain rules of offers, copy, design and format.
When someone sends me a package or ad, I promise one thing: to point out which rules are being followed and which rules are being broken, and ask whether the person knows which rules are being broken. Incidentally, I will not critique super high-tech mailings to techies, vitamin and supplement mailings to the health conscious, get-rich-quick financial letters and multi-level marketing efforts, or porny and horny stuff. This is not a moral or social stance on my part. I’m simply not qualified to comment on this stuff.