5 Long-Time Direct Mail Controls and Why They Still Work
People ask me all the time what type of direct mail is most worth studying for ideas. Even before I mention whatever is being mailed in their industry, I recommend the Grand Controls.
These are the best packages—the box office champions that have driven the most customer and donor response for a period of three years or more. Who’s Mailing What! has been cataloguing them for 30 years.
A few weeks ago, I pored through my database of 1,672 of them to find the longest-running controls still in the mail today. Here’s a quick look at five of them, and why they work.
1. Amnesty International
I’ve written about this package before. I’m amazed that it’s still driving membership for Amnesty International today, about 30 years after it was introduced. The copy and the outer get tweaked from time to time, but it remains, in Denny Hatch’s words, a “powerhouse of guilt.”
The letter runs down a list of places in the world where human rights abuses occur, and asks the donor to sign and return the enclosed “Message of Hope” card. Why? It explains: “His name is Constantino, and for years he was held in a tiny cell; his only human contact was with his torturers.” One day, he gets one of those personalized hope cards. It lets him know that people are working for his release. Eight months later, he is freed. A very powerful involvement device.
2. The Humane Farming Association
This is another fundraising appeal that’s been around forever. Well, since 1998, anyway. This photo of a baby calf chained in a wooden box takes up a third of the outer. “He Can’t Turn Around,” it starts. “We Can’t Turn Our Backs!” The letter inside goes into rather gruesome detail describing veal industry practices in the U.S., for two out of its four pages.
Again, guilt works. It’s easily the leading copy driver, in its many forms, in nonprofit fundraising.
The auto club is a giant in direct mail, offering travel and financial services besides roadside assistance with membership. A lot of its efforts have been long-term successes, like this one for more than 10 years.
The outer is a #10 envelope that tells the prospect that he or she is being offered membership privileges for not just themselves, but two drivers. The letter inside and this four-page “QuickStart Guide” focus heavily on benefits. Everyone knows AAA’s road service, but the letter also talks about travel, insurance, ID protection and lots of discounts. It’s all about surrounding the customer with one-stop shopping.
4. International Living
The first intriguing thing about this newsletter subscription campaign is that it’s an envelope-within-an-envelope, a #10 inside a manila #11. Then there’s the fascinating letter. Denny Hatch wrote about it brilliantly in his book, “Method Marketing.”
Originally written by Agora founder Bill Bonner, the campaign still captivates after almost 40 years: “You look out your window, past your gardener, who is busily pruning the lemon, cherry, and fig trees … amidst the splendor of gardenias, hibiscus and hollyhocks.” And that’s just the start … sign me up!
5. The Sun
The Sun is a monthly magazine that has been publishing essays, poems, short stories and photographs for more than 40 years. This subscription acquisition mail-piece goes back to the late 1990s. It’s a seven-panel self-mailer that does two great things.
First, it includes a heartfelt letter from its founder and editor, Sy Safransky, who tells his story. He then explains the magazine’s objective: to “celebrate the glory and the heartache of being human.”
Second, the mailer uses photos and excerpts from the magazine to whet the reader’s appetite for more. Remarkably, the content hasn’t been refreshed much over the years. It probably doesn’t need to be.
The bottom line with these timeless mailings is that they all still work. There’s something about each one that makes it stand firm against whatever competition is thrown against it, from tests as well as the outside. Study them! Reach out to me, and I can help you. See what makes them and the thousands of other controls work. Then, as we say around here, “steal smart.”
Have a great direct mail piece of your own you want to show off? Enter it in the NonProfit PRO Gold Awards for Fundraising Excellence. Submission details here. Don’t wait—deadline for entry is Oct. 4!
Paul Bobnak is the director of Who's Mailing What!, the most complete, searchable and fully online library of direct mail and email in the world. He has read and analyzed thousands of direct mail packages (offers, copy, designs, incentives and formats) and email in more than 200 industry categories, including retail, nonprofits, insurance, telecom, B-to-B, financial services and publishing. He writes for the e-newsletter Today @ Target Marketing and has been a judge in NonProfit PRO's Gold Awards for Fundraising Excellence since 2006.