Every diving champion bellyflops in practice from time to time. And every great mailer tests a dud on occasion. At Inside Direct Mail, we savor opportunities to chat with mailers about what's not working.
When we got this non-control mailing from Adventure magazine, part of the family of direct mail juggernaut National Geographic Society, we figured Adventure was doing some testing.
Doug Wicinski, consumer marketing director for Adventure, was more than willing to talk about this test mailing, and was very upfront about the fact that the magazine's control is in no danger.
The test mailing is a 6" x 11" kraft envelope stuffed with seven pieces in total, featuring a sweepstakes, a fast 50, a premium for subscribing and a full-color fold-out poster.
"We did about 40-percent from our house file, from the National Geographic database," says Wicinski, "and the other 60 percent were from rental lists, a mixture of magazines that have done well for us in the pastthat usually have a strong demographicand catalog buyers as well that have a strong demographic to the outdoor market."
The sweepstakes offers a chance to win one of three National Geographic North American expeditions. The fast 50 is for a pair of National Geographic-branded hiking shoes. The premium for subscribing is an Adventure survival pocket knife.
Trusted brand name, envelope full of goodies, solid targeting.
And yet, according to Wicinski, "On a gross response basis, it came in at .83-percent gross response. Right now we are at a .6-percent net, which is, on a net basis, 61-percent lower than our control.
"I would estimate we'll probably get more payup than that, but I would say our estimate would be a good 50-percent to 60-percent reduction in net response once it all finalizes out."
Wicinski says that Adventure, launched in 1999, has been considering a sweepstakes for some time, but held back during the magazine's salad days due to legal problems with sweeps in the late 1990s. The magazine decided to go ahead with the idea, in conjunction with a sweeps National Geographic magazine was planningbut ultimately bowed out of.
Because of the legal wrangling involved in putting a sweepstakes togetherdifferent states have different laws regarding the conteststhe mailing was delayed from fall of 2002 to January of this year. There's nothing in the package, however, that's time-sensitive.
Another possibility is that the outer is somewhat subtle about what's inside. "We sort of went back and forth on the design of it, and we all settled on the idea that doing a sweepstakes in this day and age is a little tricky," says Wicinski. "We didn't want to do the old-fashioned Publisher's Clearing House approach of 'You may have already won' and really scream out sweepstakes. We wanted to make it a sweepstakes package, but we also didn't want to be overhanded in our delivery ... In hindsight, you could always second guess yourself, maybe that's why we didn't get people to open it up. But we thought we had enough teasers."
As Inside Direct Mail guru Denny Hatch is fond of saying: "I cannot judge good direct mail. It judges me."
That's why we test, and why National Geographic and its divisions are so good in the mail.