The Check Is in the Mail
The late, great direct mail guru Walter Weintz created in 1955 the hugely successful "penny mailing"" for Reader's Digest. Weintz's mailing had two windows--a large one for the name and address, and a much smaller one to the left, through which two pennies showed. The teaser copy on the outside envelope read: "If thou hast two pennies ..."
Inside, the letter continued: "Keep one penny for bread ... or for luck. Send back the other penny as a down payment on a subscription to the Reader's Digest--a penny to seal the bargain! You'll get 8 months (a $2 value) for $1.01. You'll save 99 cents. So the penny is worth 99 cents to you. If you use it now. We'll bill you for the balance of $1.00."
This penny mailing increased response from 6 percent to 9 percent. It was brilliant and was mailed for years. Weintz called this technique the "hot potato"--a coin, token, live postage stamp, redeemable certificate--that forced recipients to do something. They either had to respond or make a conscious effort to throw this valuable thing away.
Hey, if two pennies worked like gangbusters in the 1950s, $25 should work today. Obviously, you cannot send $25 in cash. But it has been long tested and proven that a live, personalized check in an acquisition mailing is effective.
"Pay to the order of ..." followed by the addressee's name showing through a window is a powerful teaser. Of course, you open the letter to see how much you are receiving.
No doubt everyone reading this has received a check in the mail from MCI or AT&T--for $25, $50 or even $75. The deal: Deposit this, and you are automatically switched to our phone service. Often these are "win-back" efforts, sent to people who for one reason or another switched from one phone provider to another. So the jilted party sends out a live check to "win back" the lapsed customer. What's more, unlike the two pennies (or live stamp), the check costs the mailer nothing unless it actually gets cashed.
(The check as a reply mechanism is a great invention. Orders are delivered electronically, courtesy of the Federal Reserve System; and the phone companies can make the switch and start billing the customer for phone service within a couple of days, rather than waiting a couple of weeks for the reply mail to trickle in.)
A new variation of this--a live $25 check with which to open a new bank account--came in with September's mail from ING Direct. This same mailing has been received a few times by Who's Mailing What! Archive correspondents, which means it is likely a control and a moneymaker.
According to ING's Web site, "ING's parent company, Amsterdam-based ING Group, originated in 1990 from the merger between Nationale-Nederlanden and NMB Postbank Groep. Combining roots and ambitions, the newly formed company called itself 'Internationale Nederlanden Group.' Market circles soon abbreviated the name to I-N-G. The company later followed suit by changing the statutory name to 'ING Groep N.V.'"
The deal is spelled out on the front of the check: "Bonus only available for new accounts with a new customer as primary owner. Worth $25 only when deposited in a new ING DIRECT Orange Savings Account. $25 Bonus starts earning interest upon account opening, but is unavailable for withdrawal for 30 days. Valid through 11/30/03--do it today!"
The copy is strong and persuasive. A list of "direct answers to all your questions" is even provided on the back of the
8-6/16" x 16-3/4" letter with perforated reply form and check. More to the point, it hammers home three key copy drivers:
Fear: Is my money safe?
* ING is FDIC-Insured up to $100,000.
* The company operates in 65 countries, employs more than 11,000 people, and has been operating in the United States for more than 100 years with stock traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
Greed: What's in it for me?
* $25 bonus check is enclosed "to get the ball rolling."
* There is a 2 percent annual percentage yield.
* No minimum balance is required.
Anger (at other money-grubbing financial institutions):
* Because ING is a direct bank and operates with lower overhead, you are never assessed fees or service charges.
* All your money goes to work earning interest for you.
* Transferring funds between savings and checking is easy.
* Sales associates are available by phone seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
* Statements are sent each month there is activity in the account; otherwise quarterly.
How influential is ING Direct's mailing? The recipient of this mailing was more willing to send back the Activation Form than to have a work colleague, who's also an ING Direct customer, refer her so he could get a referral fee. That's the power of direct mail at work!