Where's the Emotion?
It was the great freelancer Jack Maxson (he turned Brookstone into a major player with his brilliant catalog copy) who wrote:
Probably well over half our buying choices are based on emotion.
We make buying decisions on the basis of reasonfire extinguishers, vacuum cleaners, smoke alarms, toothbrushes, and the like. But a very large percentage of our choices (probably well over half) are based on our emotions. We can buy quality cars for $18,000 or less, but a sizeable number of us pop for models at $30,000 or more. Why? Emotion over reason. Almost everything we use or own makes some kind of statement about ushomes, hair dye, paintings, clothing, recreation, and more.
Nowhere is emotion needed more than in the fund-raising arena. The seven great copy drivers postulated by West Coast guru Bob Hacker and direct mail maven Axel Andersson are: fear, greed, guilt, anger, exclusivity, salvation and flattery. In fund raising, emotion is everythingspecifically guilt, salvation and flattery. The greatest of these is guilt.
To my way of thinking, the operative aphorism was the line by Englishman John Bradford in the 16th century on
seeing some criminals being led to execution: "There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford."
This line is powerful when raising money for the homeless, the Red Cross, orphanageseven animals, if you think about the luck that you were born a human being rather than a stray dog.
Where the great direct mail letters of the past were loaded with emotion, today's writers seem loathe to wear their hearts on their sleeves. Part of the problem may be the twenty-somethings that dominated the dot-com epoch. "Tell, don't sell," they said. "People don't want to be sold. Build it and they will come." Willard Rouse, architect for Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Baltimore's hugely successful Inner Harbor, said, "Build it and they will come is B.S. Build it, sell the hell out of it, and they will come!"
Which brings me to a mailing from Joseph J. Levin, Jr., president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) sent to my brother-in-law, Ralph. Ralph reads his mail and whenever he is offered any kind of free estate planning kit, he sends for it to keep current with the copy approaches and legalese in these pitches.
The mailing arrived in a Jiffy bag and contained a videocassette, a poorly photocopied article titled "Even small estates need to have a plan" from the Atlanta Journal/Constitution*, and this personalized letter in Times Roman type with a distinctive signature that looks authentic but was, in fact, printed.
Not one jot of emotion in this letter. Not one shard of guilt. SPLC spent a ton on this mailing (610SOPOLC1002). Postage alone was $1.75. Plus the video, personalized letter and Jiffy bag. Clearly, not much poverty exists at SPLC.
In fact, founder Morris Dees has come under fire for taking contributions and adding to his capital fund rather than spending on programs. According to www.charitynavigator.org, which has a mission of "guiding intelligent giving,"
credence must be given to that accusation. Last year the organization had revenues of $36,309,662 and a surplus after all expenses and operations of $12,892,509. This means that $12.9 million of the money donors believed was going to programs actually went into the bank. One other little number of interest: Joseph J. Levin's compensation is $209,810a nifty chunk of change for a lifestyle in Montgomery, AL. Hey, the word "poverty" is not in this guy's lexicononly on his paychecks.
What might Levin have done? He could look at an equivalent videocassette mailing from Morris Dees in the summer of 1990. Talk about emotion, here is what Dees wrote in his letter asking me to spend 15 minutes watching the video. It was a stunner in terms of grabbing the heartstrings:
We have spent the last twenty-two years fighting some pretty tough battles. I held my young daughter as she sobbed while FBI agents and guards searched the woods around our home for armed Klan intruders. I stood with sadness and pride as our lawyers and staff watched the mother of Michael Donald accept the jury's $7-million verdict against the United Klans of America for lynching her teen-age son.
I have often wished that those special moments could be shared with people like you who send their hard-earned money to make our work possible. Without the help of our supporters, we would not have the string of victories that has made us the Klan's number one enemy.
We want you to come inside our new building, meet our people, see the sophisticated equipment used to track white supremacist activities, relive some successful and some tragic moments of our past, and ream with us of the future.
This video is our effort to bring you closer into the Center family, to let you feel what we feel. I believe that you will not soon forget the experience.
To make it economically possible for us to share this new film with you, I am asking that you return it to us as soon as you've had a chance to view it. We will then send it to another supporter, and so on. I know this might be an imposition, but I hope you will be helpful in this matter as you have been with you support of our work
I am enclosing a self-addressed label. Simply reuse the mailing envelope and affix the label over your name. The postage is the low educational rate of 90 cents.
On behalf of our entire staff, we thank you for being our special friend.
Dees added this P.S.
Please take a few minutes to drop me a note about you feelings after watching the video. I look forward to hearing from you. By the way, feel free to make a copy of the video if you wish.
*Levin photocopied and enclosed an article from the Atlanta Journal/Constitution. Nowhere on the piece does it say, "Copyright © 1990 Atlanta Journal/Constitution. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission." Levin is in violation of the Copyright Law. Under copyright law it is technically illegal to so much as make a photocopy of a copyright page even for your own use. To do so and mail out multiple copies is a gross violation. Damages can be as high as $25,000 per violation.