Going ‘New School’: Harvard Medical School Leaves its Stuffy Reputation in the Dust
Harvard University, including its medical school, carries an established and distinguished reputation. The classic, old-school images of the professor wearing a sweater vest and smoking a pipe or the young, poised student who speaks with perfect diction come to mind. Unfortunately, that same stuffy, serious reputation came through in the Harvard Medical School’s direct-mail campaigns.
For years, the heralded medical school sent a very plain package to prospects for its Harvard Health Letter newsletter. It was precisely what one would expect from Harvard: a straightforward outer envelope that used its name to do the selling. Nothing flashy — actually, it was the antithesis of flashy.
With a target audience composed of mostly consumers 50 years old and above, this format made sense. Plus the package was very successful — so successful, in fact, that no test came close to beating it for 12 years.
A radical overhaul
Historically, Harvard was reluctant to stray too far from such a successful control, especially one that represented the ideals of the medical school. However, like every direct mailer, Harvard continued to test to find ways to increase response.
Nothing seemed to work, until freelance copywriter Ken Scheck decided to shake things up. According to Donna DeWitt, vice president of circulation marketing for Harvard’s Consumer Health Publishing Group, Scheck developed a new concept for the mailing.
“Ken really wanted to write provocative copy to get people interested in what was inside,” DeWitt says. “He wanted the copy to sizzle. He had done it with other clients and had success, so he came to us with a new test. He wanted to do something completely different.”
Instead of the old, plain view, Scheck designed an outer envelope that resembles an aggressive marketer rather than a respected medical institution. It plays off the quick-fix advertising that often exists today, with the phrase “If anyone suggests you take the ‘health’ supplement named inside … just say ‘Not on your life!’ SAYS WHO? The doctors at Harvard Medical School, that’s who!” on the front, along with teasers of what is inside, highlighted by the “FREE ISSUE AND 2 FREE GIFTS — OPEN NOW!” offer.