Anatomy of a Control: Sierra Club Packs It In
Direct mail is the only advertising medium that enables the sender to create a personal message. I did not say “personalized” — as in having the recipient’s name plastered all over the place, such as with return address labels or on a sweepstakes entry form. In this instance, “personal” means that the letter writer can make an intimate and emotional connection with the reader. As freelance copywriter Bill Jayme said, “In direct mail — as in theater — there is indeed a factor at work called the willing suspension of disbelief.”
A direct mail package comes into your hands, and you know in your gut that this thing has gone out to thousands — maybe millions — of others. But it somehow touches you.
Such is the case with the acquisition effort of the Sierra Club, which as 368,000 members and spends nearly $50 million on environmental causes and has an endowment of nearly $120 million.
The busy, little gray monarch-sized envelope, at first glance, appears to be personally addressed to me from Carl Pope. The font in the computer-generated name and address label matches Pope’s name in the cornercard. In the upper right is a faux-metered nonprofit indicia in red. But this is offset by the bright, four-color stamps in the center that give the feeling of something that was hand-applied.
Hooked on a feeling
Examine ten direct mail packages, and from nine of them you’ll get the feeling that it’s coming from a machine instead of a live human being. Sure, there’s a letter from a person, but the signature is printed. The reader’s name is either a label or computer personalized. It appears as if the only human that ever touched it was the postman. The envelope is full of “printed” things — not things touched by real people. Everything looks too neat, too perfect.
But if somehow you can give the readers the feeling that the letter was written by a real human, the order form was filled out by someone in the office, the components were folded and inserted by hand, you stand a greater chance of getting them to pay attention to your mailing, and thus lifting response.
The Sierra Club letter is four pages — two nested pages printed front and back in a Times-like font — and leads with a three-line paragraph that contains three of the eight key emotional hot buttons that cause people to act: “I am writing to ask for your immediate help. The Bush Administration has proposed a plan that threatens one of our greatest national treasures … the Giant Sequoia National Monument.
(Fear: It will be destroyed. Guilt: If you do not help, it will be destroyed because of you. Anger: The Bushies are at it again, just like oil drilling in Alaska.
What really makes this mailing stand out from all others is the incredible cluster of stuff that has been assembled in the envelope along with the letter. In all, this amazing package is made up of 12 elements.
Freemiums and premiums
Freemium No. 1: An evocative 3-inch-by-7-inch photograph of a couple hiking next to a giant Sequoia tree. On the back is a handwritten note that reinforces the fear, anger and guilt of the letter: ‘The mighty Sequoia have lasted for over 3,500 years. Don’t let them be destroyed in just four years of the George W. Bush Administration — please join the fight and the Sierra Club today!”
Freemium No. 2: A stick-on decal of a hiker with backpack and a mountain in the background. On the back of the decal is this plea, looking for all the world as though it were a note hand-scrawled with a felt-tip pen: Please use this decal to show your support for wildlands protection!
Freemium No. 3: Two long, skinny laminated calendars with the Sierra Club logo and the following message on the back: Affix this calendar strip on your PC keyboard, your desk or anywhere else you need a calendar. Every time you see it, you will be reminded of the important contribution you are making to protect America’s wildlands.
The Premium: Contributors of $15 or more receive a Sierra Club Expedition backpack.
The lift pieces
Lift Piece No. 1: A tribute to “The Mighty Sequoia … “ On one side it is compared (favorably) in height to the Statue of Liberty. On the back is a graphic showing the tree’s age rings with call-outs describing the 3,500 years of history that would be lost if the Bush Administration has its way.
Lift Piece No. 2: A slip repeating the offer and urging the prospect to respond NOW.
Lift Piece No. 3: A slip of yellow paper pointing out that the Sierra Club was named “America’s Most Effective Environmental Organization.”
The multi-purpose order device
The 63⁄4-inch-by-17-inch contribution device contains a string of lift elements.
Element No. 1: The turnaround document. This contains the payment information, opt-in check box and another box to check if the Expedition Pack premium is not wanted.
Element No. 2: A punch-out temporary membership card in full color with the prospect’s name and membership number printed on it. On the back is a calendar.
Elements No. 3 and No. 4: Petitions to President Bush and Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth to save the Sequoias.
Element No. 5: Where to call for copies of the Sierra Club’s latest financial report.
Element No. 6: A chronology of Sierra Club successes, beginning with the formation of the National Park Service in 1916 and ending with saving 50,000 acres of the Mojave Desert and Sloan Canyon.
Element No. 7: A chart showing the percentage of contributions going toward Fundraising (7.5 percent), General and Administrative (3.4 percent), Membership (20.9 percent), Public education (10.5 percent); Influencing Public Policy (44.6 percent), Outdoor Activities (6.4 percent) and Chapter Programs (6 percent).
The BRE. Simple black-and-white envelope with the hand-written line: “Your first-class stamp will save us much needed funds.” On the back is the list of benefits of membership: subscription to Sierra magazine, discounts on books, opportunities to go on Sierra Club expeditions, and “The knowledge that you are an integral part of America’s oldest, largest and most effective grassroots environmental force!”
This package with its tzimmes of elements — all of which look very different from each other — is the exact opposite of the simple St. Jude effort from Marlo Thomas that was highlighted in the last issue of FundRaising Success. Why all these many elements? In his classic Secrets of Successful Direct Mail, the late Dick Benson wrote: “Adding elements to a mailing package, even though obviously adding cost, is more likely to pay out than cheapening the package.
Contributing editor Denny Hatch is a consultant, freelance copywriter and author of the books “Priceline.com: A Layman’s Guide to Manipulating the Media”; “Method Marketing”; “Million Dollar Mailings”; and “2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success” (co-author). Anatomy of a Control highlights successful direct marketing mailings. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.