DATA RAPE: The New Direct Marketing
Ed McLean’s Dictum
One of the great direct mail letters of all time was the late Ed McLean's masterpiece for Newsweek. It began:
If the list upon which I found your name is any indication, this is not the first—nor will it be the last—subscription letter you receive.
Quite frankly, your education and income set you apart from the general population and make you a highly rated prospect for everything from magazines to mutual funds ...
It was an offbeat approach—one that both flattered the reader and, at the same time, let prospects in on how they came to receive the solicitation. Newsweek rented a list—no big deal.
Some people wrote in to ask what list they were on. A few complained. Many more responded by subscribing to the magazine. It was control for many years and was mailed in the tens of millions.
In his last years, I asked Ed about this mailing and how writers should deal with the avalanche of information they have about the strangers to whom they are writing.
"You've got to dumb-down what you know,” he replied.
In other words, you may have a great deal of personal and intimate data about your prospect, but that knowledge must operate behind the copy. You cannot reel off in-your-face information to a person that you got from an outside source. It is eerie. It is creepy. It is disrespectful.
How Much Information Do We Really Need?
Is knowing the minutiae of people’s lives and habits necessary to make a sale? Or will a powerful, benefit-laden offer do the job? It was the late Rose Harper, the staggeringly brilliant CEO of the Kleid Company, who said to me in an interview:
Let’s be realistic: It isn’t essential to know an individual’s real income and/or net worth. If someone subscribes to a financial publication, a photography magazine, a fashion magazine, a health publication, that positions the person as a prospect for certain types of related products.