Now Showing: "The Postcard"
It was the late, great freelancer Bill Jayme who said that direct mail was like theater in that to be successful, it had to create a willing suspension of disbelief. Postcards are no exception.
What is a postcard? It can be a short, handwritten note from a friend or family member with an exotic postage stamp from some far corner of the world. Or a reminder from Roy at our historic church about guide duty from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
In the world of magazine circulation, the double postcard was positively ubiquitous for a few years. The four inviolable rules for the double postcard (beyond making sure it slavishly conformed to USPS regulations):
1. The product had to be a household name, because so little room
exists for lengthy sales copy;
2. Fantastic offer (e.g., Take the current issue FREE!);
3. Easy to order (detach the bottom card and drop it in the mail); and
4. Bill-me option onlybecause no envelope is enclosed for a check or money orderand it is bad business to ask for credit card account information on a return postcard that can be stolen by any and all on its return to the fulfillment house.
So what about the crop of postcards that showed up in June for such diverse businesses as FedEx, Domino's, Cunard, Hitachi Data Systems, Verizon and Cigar Aficionado?
No willing suspension of disbelief here. These are institutional sales pieces without any sense that a real person was sending them to another real person.
But the big question for marketers is this: After spending so much on postage, is it really smart to scrimp on the message? The late guru Dick Benson said that the more pieces you stick in a direct mail package, the more exciting it is, and it's very likely these extra elements will more than pay for themselves. By the way, anything I ever say about direct mail is not gospel; rather it is testable.
(Mail) Box Office Hits and Misses
You can't add pieces to a postcard, but you can spend time on the message. The message is the element that caused some postcards that showed up in the June mailbox to bomb and others to shine.
* FedEx (838FEDEXP0603) sent a dreary little 4" x 5" accordion-fold purple thing with the giant headline in silver spread across the fully unfolded panels: "Log on today to SAVE.FEDEX.COM." A personalized account number is printed in the message copy, which lets you create your own FedEx Smart Savers account. Well, if you are not already logged on, this is very likely a mailing you will not save. It will be laid aside and eventually find its way into the recycling bin.
* Verizon (808VERIZO0603) sent a 6" x 9" single postcard with the big headline in cold, reversed sans serif type: "What would it take TO GET YOU TO COME BACK TO VERIZON?" This is known as a "win-back" effort, sent by a company that probably made you mad and caused you to switch to AT&T. If I were Verizon, I think I would write a nice, personal-sounding letter and include a mail-in reply device. After all, Verizon is asking for $660 a year, and the copy contains eight lines of sans serif mousetype disclaimers under the headline, "This postcard is in reference to the phone service you previously had with Verizon."
It seems to make sense that if you have disclaimers, they should be buried deep in a brochure rather than in your face on the back of a postcard.
* Cunard (501CUNLIN0603) sent a nifty little effort with a personalized letter offering 50 percent off on any of five trans-Atlantic crossings, free return air and a $100 per cabin inboard credit if you reply by July 11. The reply mechanism: "Call 1-800-7-CUNARD and mention code 324D." This piece does the jobhousehold name, great offer, easy to reply and a strong communication of the "send no money now" message.
* Contrast the Cunard piece with the Hitachi (835HITDAS0602) 6" x 8" card with the headline, "Can I afford a world-class storage system that will take my business to the next level?" This is a complex offer that takes
a lot of explanation coupled with benefit-oriented "you" copy (as opposed to the feature-heavy "it" copy used in this piece). I have two thumbs, and both are down.
* Domino's (521DOMPIZ0603), on the other hand, follows the rules with its 41/2" x 101/2" offer with six detachable coupons for bargain meals (e.g., "Buy a Large 1-Topping Pizza at menu price and receive a 2nd Medium Pizza with
1-Topping FREE!"). This is a great promotion to selected New Jersey residents: household name, great offer, easy to order (local phone numbers in Atlantic City, Woodbury, Camden and Glassboro) and no return payment
required. Here's the kicker: A magnetic strip enables you to affix the card to your refrigerator and take advantage of the other five coupons before the December expire date.
Artificial Intelligence: Two Thumbs Up
Finally, Cigar Aficionado (202CIGAFI0603) has come up with an ingenious offer that I cannot recall ever seeing before. The headline and copy on this 5-1/2" x 8" triple postcard:
Get a free issue just for taking part in this survey! In appreciation of your participation, you will receive a FREE ISSUE of Cigar Aficionado, the authority on cigar tasting, buying, and collectingthe cigar magazine no true cigar lover should be without. Simply answer the four questions below and return the survey to us by the deadline. We'll rush you your FREE issueour way of thanking you for your time.
"Please do us a favor," reads the copy inside. "We are conducting a survey, and we want to know what you think."
It sounds straightforward, but in reality, it is an artificea brilliant copy approach. On the order card are four multiple choice questions:
1. How often do you smoke a cigar?
2. On average, what strength cigar do you most like to smoke?
3. What's your favorite cigar size?
4. What's your favorite cigar brand?
At left is good old-fashioned, boilerplate free-issue offer copy: "If I don't like what I see, I'll write 'Cancel' on the bill I'll receive and return it promptly ... If I like Cigar Aficionado, I'll pay the low rate of ...")
Instead of a plain-Jane, comp-copy offer, here is a fascinating device that accomplishes several purposes:
1. Reader involvement.
2. It sounds like a reward.
3. It forces the prospect to think about cigars, so if he is not a cigar smoker, he will not answer the questions.
4. Cigar Aficionado gets to compile a database of cigar smokers and their smoking preferences.
And it follows the rules: household word (or product), easy to order, great offer, no cash required.
You have to love it!
Denny Hatch is a freelance copywriter and consultant, founder of Who's Mailing What! (now Inside Direct Mail) and former editor of Target Marketing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.methodmarketing.com.