ICF's Arresting Approach
Humanitarian organizations that serve the poor and starving of the world have a tough decision to make when it comes to using pictures in their direct mail. Will the use of oftentimes arresting photographs appall potential donors and turn them away? Can a mailing without photos convey the need for donations with mere words?
In January, the Who's Mailing What! Archive received a mailing from International Children's Fund (ICF), a Neenah, Wisc.-based nonprofit organization devoted to serving needy children worldwide, that uses such striking photography (Archive code #613-177114-0501).
Sent in a plain white #10 envelope, the mailing includes an 8-1/2" x 14" double-sided letter, a 3-3/8" x 8-1/2" reply slip, a 4-3/4" x 7-1/2" folded lift note, a pack of carrot seeds and a BRE.
Inside, immediately eye-catching are the two eyes staring out from a black-and-white photograph just above the first fold of the letter. Upon unfolding the letter, the full picture comes into view, revealing the emaciated torso of a young child.
The copy of the letter, signed by ICF founder Dr. David Bruenning, is equally heart-wrenching, beginning with a prayer that leads into copy that both mirrors and expands on the need for help conveyed in the photograph:
If you could hold this baby, you would pray too. She's about two years old. "But this can't be true," you'd cry! She's so unbelievably smallshe weighs less than a sack of potatoes. Her little arms and legs are brittle twigs, so weak and fragile.
What must have once been soft baby skin now hangs in leathery, withered folds around her bones. Her skin is starting to crack open from lack of fluids and the sores on her bottom are so deep, you can see through to the bone. ...
According to Philip Zodhiates, owner of Waynesboro, Va.-based full-service direct marketing agency Response Unlimited, the mailing's pictures and copy combine to tell a story of need, a key to nonprofit direct mail.
"They used very vivid word pictures that really tell a story," says Zodhiates. "You've got to make people feel a part of it. They have to be able to feel the need and see it in their mind's eye, and I think they've done it very effectively. Very tragically, but unfortunately a lot of times the truth hurts."
The letter concludes with slightly stronger language and a number of sentences in bold, all caps, with red underlining for emphasis, such as, "The situation is desperate! Our reserves in Africa are critically low!" and, "These children have absolutely nothing!"
This style of copy, which Zodhiates calls a "guilt motivator," is carried into the lift note, which calls out to naysayers and undecideds to "take a moment to read the note inside."
Inside, Dr. Bruenning appeals to prospects one last time:
That's why I'm willing to beg you, even if it might make you feel pressured ... because, believe me, without your gift many children will die slow, agonizing deaths.
According to Kimberly J. Price, president of The Creative Advantage Inc., ICF's direct mail creators, the combination of the language and imagery used in this mailing has made it successful in meeting and exceeding the goal of a 1.75 percent response rate.
"It is the details and imagery, combined with the photograph of a dying little girl, that makes this package so successful," says Price. "Moreover, it's the knowledge that it's so easy to prove each of the statements."
Zodhiates adds that while the copy approach in the lift note could make some prospects angry, the goal of a mailing like this is to solicit donations from prospects who are touched by the need it conveys.