What a Tease!
Some say the lead of a feature article should serve as a teaser, presenting a benefit or promise of one, designed to spark the reader's interest in going further into the story.
Now that I have your attention, assuming the above paragraph did its job, isn't the outer envelope of your direct mail package obligated with the same arduous task?
Freelance copywriter Herschell Gordon Lewis often has asserted that the only purpose of the envelope, other than keeping its contents from spilling out onto the street, is to get itself opened.
Whether you tease with flashy color graphics or with simple, black serif type to get the package opened, is up to the test results to decide the winner.
"Teasers are enticements," says Pat Friesen, president, Pat Friesen & Company, a direct marketing consultancy. "What does it take to get your reader inside? Could be a benefit statement. Could be a question. Could be a little known fact that creates interest. Never underestimate the power of a teaser."
We asked the experts to reflect on the tenets of direct mail teaser copywriting (what to put in? what to leave out?) and the successful strategies of yesteryear that still generate response today.
Begin with Benefits
"The main ingredient to put in teaser copy is something that will force-inspire-provoke the recipient to open the envelope," says Donna Baier Stein, copywriter and president of Baier Stein Direct. "That's the sole goal of any writing that appears on the outer envelope."
Stein affirms that teasers can serve many uses. Among them, for example, are highlighting a benefit, underscoring a special savings or free premium, asking a question (to which prospects can't answer no!), beginning a story, inciting curiosity, flattering the reader, and asking for a response.
She also exhorts that copywriters should always craft teaser copy that is appropriate to the particular product, market, and offer.
"You have maybe two seconds to getand keepsomeone's attention long enough to get them to open your envelope, rather than tossing it in the ever-ready wastebasket," says Stein. "Teaser copy is your first, best chance to make your sale. If you fail here, your sale fails."
Susan Fantle, president of The Copy Works, a direct response copywriting firm and consultancy, concurs, and finds teaser copy to be most effective when the message opens with the number one benefit.
"In 1980 when I entered direct marketing, I read Bob Stone's 'Successful Direct Marketing Methods,'" says Fantle. "I don't remember the exact wording, but he taught me that teasers should be a benefit or the promise of one. I have never wavered from that tenet, as it has always been successful."
Fantle recalls a direct mail effort for a multi-media projector that did just that. The light weight of the product was clearly the strongest benefit, she says, so the teaser headline read as follows:
Make your presentations carry more weight, while you carry less.
Fantle says that the benefit should always be instantly clear. Here's an example:
How X Company solves these 6 common household problems.
Long Versus Short
When faced with the question of how much copy to use for your teaser, Mike Ogden, a copywriter at the advertising agency Berstein-Rein, advises to keep things brief.
"Too much information in your teaser weighs down the communication and spoils the surprise," he says. "The less, the better, for a great tease. It's all in the anticipation. But that can be a tall order. Companies like to tell the whole story. That's not a tease."
Stein would agree, offering a simple technique for crafting outer envelope teaser copy.
"I've seen some very successful mailings that use just one word in big type for a teaser," she says.
A good example of this is freelance copywriter Josh Manheimer's "BLOCKBUSTER" control for Writer's Digest. In large black type stretched across the top of the #10 outer envelope, reads: BLOCKBUSTER. Below, in much smaller serif type, beckons:
How to turn your sense of humor, your fight with the landlord, your love affair, your life ... into writing that sells.
Another is freelance copywriter Ken Scheck's control for American Heritage magazine, in which the word "MISTORY" bellows out from the outer envelope. On the back of the outer, Scheck presents four "Mistories;" that is, four statements that unearth historical fact found to be fixtures in elementary school textbooks. The magazine's editorial focuses on common historical misconceptions, so the teaser copy is relevant.
"Some of the best teasers are designed to set a mood or generate curiosity," Fantle asserts. Scheck, when interviewed by Inside Direct Mail in September, said that when you have something intensely puzzling and curiosity-arousing on the outer envelope, there's a good chance recipients will open it.
In terms of length, it is well contested that some products and markets warrant wordy outer envelopes, and some do not. Fantle, however, would advise copywriters not to feel limited to just one word, or a one-line teaser.
"Some writers use a rule of never more than X number of words," she says. "As long as the message is right, easy to read and on target, a longer teaser will work."
Old Rules Still Apply
"The only things I see changing [in writing teaser copy] have more to do with graphic style than the words themselves," says Stein, commenting on the usage of elaborate design techniques and cutting-edge formats.
The old classic approaches presented below still work, Stein attests.
Ogden says that copywriters writing in the 21st Century must heed the reality of over-stuffed mailboxes.
"There's just so much noise out there," bemoans Ogden. "For teasers to work [today], they need to be more dramatic and more memorable. You have to do something that really stands outhighly personal, out of the ordinary, multiple executions, etc."
Fantle often falls back on a more direct approach as a safe path to success, such as that used in these two examples:
Beaches, Surf, Soft Breezes, Warm Sun ... You.
Imagine playing golf on the courses the pros play.
How to streamline the way you clean your houseforever!
"Edgy teasers have come into fashion, but except for perhaps the teenage market, you don't want readers to have to think about what you said. You want an instant understanding of the promise," says Fantle.
Even though the world is moving at high speed, and technology is everywhere, basic human wants have not changed, she says.
"The need to make money, save time, be comfortable, be popular, avoid pain and all the other needs are as powerful as they have always been," says Fantle. "Satisfying these needs is still the reason for products and the key to selling them."