The Decline and Fall of Competent Direct Mail Why credit card mailings are bombing
I’ve been reading obituaries since the age of 12, fascinated to see how entire lives have been summed up in a few paragraphs.
Last week a The New York Times headline about the passing of George Wetherill, 80, described him as an “Expert on Dating of Rocks.” Did dating of rocks mean determining their age? Or did he study people who liked to take rocks out to dinner and a movie? Either way, I wasn’t interested enough in his life and career to read on.
Nor am I real interested in people who spend their lives in the credit card business—the delivery of financial nicotine to consumers who’ve been sucked into having 12.7 credit cards per household and $800 billion in revolving debt.
Now, response to credit card direct mail offers is so poor—an average of just 3 orders per 1,000 as opposed to 28 per 1,000 in 1998—that the card purveyors are cutting back on mail and looking for other marketing techniques.
The financial services community is blaming the low response to mail on the avalanche of offers and the fact that many consumers have more cards than they need.
Having spent 15 years amassing an archive of direct mail samples and perusing tens of thousands of offers, I know why response is down.
The letters are lousy, with the content dictated by lawyers and then created by Neanderthals who don’t have a clue what they’re doing and who are psychologically incapable of making an emotional connection with the reader.
In the world of junk mail, financial services mailings are the worst junk of all.
It wasn’t always the case.
The American Express Platinum Card
My association with American Express goes back to the 1950s when my father was hired to write the company’s official corporate history. During those years the then-president, Ralph T. Reed, and his wife, Edna, used to spend summers at the Rockaway Hunt Club next door to us on Long Island, and during one of those summers—thanks to Reed putting in a good word—I worked as a mail boy at American Express corporate headquarters in downtown Manhattan.