Premiums Lead to a Long-term Control
Direct mail guru Axel Andersson has asserted, "If you want to increase your response, then dramatically improve your offer." Oxmoor House, the book publishing arm of Des Moines, Iowa-based Southern Progress, put this maxim to the test back in 2002 when its direct mail campaign for the Southern Living annual cookbook needed a lift. And wouldn't you know it--the theory proved its worth.
At the time, Oxmoor was promoting the annual cookbook with a bookalog control and a small appetizer cookbook premium. As Julie Doll, senior promotions manager, explains, Oxmoor had just run a successful test of a "premium-lead" package for one of its other products, and the team felt that might be a good match for Southern Living's oldest book title. Doll describes a "premium-lead" effort as one that centers around a high-value premium. The resulting effort was large, colorful, focused on a cookie press and cookbook premium, and "got such a lift that it more than paid for itself," asserts Doll. A descendent of this package, featuring a cheesecake pan and cookbook premium that Oxmoor tested into in August 2004 after the cookie press started to fatigue, appeared in the Who's Mailing What! Archive this past September (Archive code #101-171600-0509).
The premium focus begins on the 6" x 111/2", glossy outer envelope, where the word "free" appears five times on the front of the outer alone. A call out just below the address window teases of the annual cookbook, but again places the emphasis more on the offer than the product:
Plus a year of Southern feasts! Special offer - over 50% off!
Inside, the reply device outlines the components of this soft offer: a 30-day preview of the 2005 cookbook, and a cheesecake pan and cookbook. If respondents want to keep the cookbook, they will be billed four installments of $3.99. According to Doll, this price point came about from literally years of testing. "$15.96 ... is where we used to be years ago. We brought the price up to $19.96 and then $20.97 and tested back into $15.96 and that just seems to work the best for us," she notes. "Four installments is best as well. We've tested three installments and it just didn't work like four does."
Should respondents not feel like paying those four installments, the back of the reply device features a merchandise return label, another component Oxmoor tested into back in 2002. "We used the label years ago, in the '80s, then we dropped it," recounts Doll. "In 2002, we decided to test it again, and we saw enough of a rise in response that we made it standard."
One thing not so standard, however, is that the return label is featured on the back of the reply device rather than on its own insert, which is what Oxmoor typically does to draw more attention to the guarantee. But because the crux of this effort is that it's so focused on the premiums, the decision was made to give each premium its own insert, which made inserting a separate piece for the return label cost-prohibitive. But Doll feels the benefits accrued from these full-color, photo- and copy-heavy inserts, which unfold to 81/2" x 11", outweighs the desire to promote the guarantee more heavily. "It's such a meaty premium that we felt if we just combined the two to one slip, it wouldn't make the most of our benefits. ... Having the two big inserts, we can talk about all the benefits of the pan and the booklet. It makes two big gifts that you've got to have."
In the August drop, Doll mailed a number of creative tests, including one where the premium is not blown out as much and one that features a mini-bundt pan and cookbook premium. It's too early to gauge results of these tests, but Doll is hoping the mini-bundt pan premium performs well enough to serve as a back up, if and when, the cheesecake package starts to fatigue.