Anatomy of a Control: Nutrition Health Newsletter
The first objective was to get just the right teaser. "When we were testing the teasers, we ultimately came up with ‘10 Foods You Should Never Eat,' but the very first one that we used was ‘10 Foods You Should Never Buy,'" proclaims Bass. "But then the word ‘eat' made a big difference. It's funny how these subtle little things can make such a huge difference."
With the teaser in place and a #10 carrier covered with images of food products, this initial rollout also featured a simple black-and-white letter without illustrations, but through testing, Bass and company found that illustrations of food products in the margins and using the color blue intermittently helped response. And it didn't take long for this package to supplant the old control, garnering more than 3 percent response in 1992.
While response has slowed down with the control over the years, averaging about 1.5 percent to 2 percent since the early years, it's still yet to be beaten. The reason? Nutrition Action Healthletter has continually tweaked the package ever so slightly to adapt with the times. "It's always had the same number of inserts, and they've always been essentially same. The biggest changes have always been with the carrier," notes Bass. "It originally started out with the teaser ‘10 Foods You Should Never Eat,' and that was a very strong teaser. I'd say it probably carried us through the end of the '90s. But then it started showing some weakness, so we started testing other teasers. We also tested entirely new packages, but nothing ever beat the control. So we started tweaking the control starting with primarily the carrier and the teaser on it. We now have kind of a stable of teasers that we're always back-testing," he adds.
The tests that Nutrition Action Healthletter has tried include changing format sizes and a two-page letter opposed to four pages. None of them have seemed to work as well, with the two-page letter particularly hurting response. Bass thinks he knows why. "We don't have an instantly recognizable name like Time magazine, and we're not affiliated with any university which might provide some instant credibility like Tufts' Diet & Nutrition Letter. We have to make the case for why we have credibility," he explains.