Just About Anything Can be Sold Via Direct Mail (949 words)
By Lois K. Geller
Looking at mail on a snowy eve.
Christmas in New York means mail. I get bills, catalogs, happy holidays cards, fascinating letters about "what the (NAME HERE) family did last year," solo mailers, self-mailers, letters from good friends, and a special kind of mail from "other friends" that starts to come in mid-December.
These other friends are the wonderful people who look after my neighbors and me all year long.
My favorite is the annual "Seasons Greetings" from the 21 employees of my apartment building. The folded single sheet someone slides under my door has blurry color photos of the doormen, porters and handymen with a bigger photo of the superintendent. The photo captions give us their names (as if we'd forget), what they do, and how long they've worked in the building. Maybe we're supposed to give gifts based on longevity, like five bucks a year.
The newspaper delivery people (they're a family out in Queens who get up before the crack of dawn) leave a card with a business reply envelope inside so you can mail a gift to them. One year I forgot to send a check and for a few months had to race down the hall in my nightgown every morning to get The New York Times and Wall Street Journal three doors away.
I was talking to Hallie Mummert at Target Marketing last week about all this strange mail, and she said "You should see the weird offers we get." I asked her to send some over. She did. Here it is.
"There's Never Been a Better Time … "
A self mailer. "Pines Terrace Mausoleum. Act now and Save! *Save up to $1500. (At pre-construction pricing. More affordable than traditional cemetery burials, one of the lowest priced mausoleums in the Delaware Valley)."
Isn't this a hoot? It's selling mausoleums like Florida timeshares. There's even a big glamour photo of a young couple walking along the beach wrapped in each other's arms. "There's never been a better time"? Well, yeah. We're still alive. But they're not absolutely sure, so they add: "The purpose of this mailing is to inform families of our new mausoleum. Please accept our apologies if this has reached a home in which there is illness or sorrow."
"From This to This"
The envelope teaser reads "From this to this." Two photos illustrate: The first "this" is grass in a wheelbarrow; the second "this" is what looks like potting soil in a man's hands. I have no idea what they're talking about. Boxed copy says "In just 14 days? Inside: A special invitation to try the most exciting invention and development for home composting!"
Once inside, things become slightly more clear. They're selling a compost tumbler (sounds like a circus act, doesn't it?) I suspect that you toss organic things into it and eventually out comes potting soil. My daughter-in-law loves this kind of stuff, so I paid attention.
The piece looks old fashioned with faded black and white photos and real down-home chatty copy. It works. The only challenge is that nowhere is there even a hint of what the thing costs. I guess they do that in the fulfillment package, but I would certainly test divulging the price in acquisition, too.
"Rise Above it All"
The outer looks like a wedding invitation. Inside, on beautiful card stock, are the words, "Rise above it all," and then "Basic geometry states: The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But how can you travel in a straight line with all those grid-like gridlocked surface streets? The Sikorsky S-76 Rise-Above-It-All Club."
There's some info about an executive class helicopter (There's a laborers' helicopter?) that will take me to New Jersey or Long Island, even to the Hamptons for as little as $1,450. If I had $1,450 to spare, I'd be off to Bloomie's. But the mailing works—except for one thing: No offer!
Yes, even rich people react to offers. Years ago, when I was working in Canada, I won a bet against our company chairman. A supermarket chain had a special invitation for CEOs to come by and get a free Christmas turkey. He said it would never happen. But most of those rich folks (or maybe their chauffeurs) showed up for the freebie. Many of them could have bought the whole supermarket chain. Offers represent 40 percent of the success of your program, no matter who you're selling to.
"The Full Mustard"
Here's a catalog called Mustardbill that looks like the Playbill program from a Broadway theater. Barry Levinson (maybe the owner) appears on the cover playing the part of Maria von Trapp. The whole catalog is fun … a take-off on various shows, like the Full Mustard ("Full Monty") and West Side Slather ("West Side Story"). Hats off to them; they've developed a personality for their condiment catalog—though I wonder about "Annie Get Your Bun." One thing I'm curious about (and I'm hoping the folks at Wisconsin's Mount Horeb Mustard Museum contact me about their results) is what happens when the creative overshadows the product. When we talk to our clients, we encourage them to make their product or service the star of the creative approach.
As I look through the piles of mail I get each day, I think it's important to remember that the people we're writing to are human beings, just like us. We should treat them that way.
Lois K. Geller is president of Mason & Geller Direct Marketing, a full-service direct response agency in NYC. She is the author of "RESPONSE! The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing." She can be reached at loisgeller@ masongeller.com.