The History Channel Bucks Some Trends
A number of trends abound in the world of magazine renewals, such as generic, official-looking outers; vouchers; double-windows; and teasers that scream such time-sensitive messages as "Urgent!" "Last Chance!" and "Renew Today!" But in September, the Who's Mailing What! Archive saw a renewal effort from The History Channel Club, which includes a subscription to The History Channel Magazine, that bucks many of the sector's most prevalent trends (Archive code #710-696028-0509).
At first glance, the #10 envelope package looks nothing like a renewal. The outer envelope is printed on a tan-and-grey, parchment-like, marbled background. The teaser on the front of the outer has none of the urgency found on a typical renewal: "You're invited to relive history's greatest moments ... at great savings!" That teaser, coupled with a second one that reads, "Free Bonus Certificate Enclosed," gives the impression that this is an offer separate from the recipient's membership.
Inside are three pieces: a BRE, a lift note, and an 81/2" x 14" sheet that pulls triple duty as a letter, reply device and entry form for the club's History Giveaway and Getaway contest, which, explains Laura Burkholder, vice president of membership development, is one of the club's standing benefits and not unique to this mailing.
The letter, which takes up half of the front and back of this sheet, acknowledges that the recipient still has a few months left on his membership and attempts to persuade him to respond with a message that reads more like a fundraising appeal than a renewal: "Although most of your membership dues are dedicated to providing the rich editorial content for The History Channel Magazine [$20 of the $24 fee, according to the effort's fine print], we also use your dues to research and implement other member benefits."
Below the letter and the entry form is the reply device, referred to as the "Renewal Certificate," which offers the subscriber the ability to re-up for three, two or one year(s). It also instructs him this is a "Limited-time Offer" and that the "Free Gift Deadline" is "09/19/05." The piece also outlines the free component of this offer: three free months of membership for a three-year renewal, two free months for a two-year, and one free month for a one-year.
According to Burkholder, the club has been offering free months of membership since its launch in February 2003. She was not at liberty to say what other offer elements have been tried, but she did confirm that, as any good direct mailer would, the club has tested against this control; the fact that it has stayed around for nearly three years attests to its effectiveness for the club's target audience.
However, a look into the Archive reveals another renewal effort sent earlier this year to the same subscriber, Archive correspondent Fred Lederman, featuring a more lucrative offer12 free months with a three-year membership, eight months for a two-year re-up, and four months with a one-year enrollmentwith the same yearly price points.
Cost also is the focus of the lift note. Printed on a bright, golden stock, it stands out against the subdued color palette of the letter and outer envelope. The front of the note card-sized folded piece reads, "Special Dues Increase Information... See Inside...," and features the club's logo. In a break from publishing tradition, this note is penned by the same person who wrote the letterExecutive Director Terry Monahan. The copy focuses on a forthcoming dues increase and encourages the subscriber to lock in his membership at the lower price:
The History Channel Club takes pride in keeping ... dues low. But due to rising costs beyond our control, we are going to have to raise them in a few months.
Whether or not the club's dues actually are set to go uptoo often we see mailers not make good on such "last-chance" claimsthis message has credibility, not just because of the rising costs consumers are seeing at the gas pump, in the grocery store and on their utility bills, but also because the note goes on to give specifics:
Just mail your payment today, and your membership will be renewed at $24 instead of the $26 dues rate.
It will be interesting to see how and if the club's offerboth the price and the premiumchanges in the coming months.