Soaring on Simplicity
For direct mail copywriting and creative team Paul E. Barry and Rosalie G. Barry, the objective set forth by the Air Force Association in 1997 was a simple one: Craft a membership appeal to sell accident insurance to a decidedly military audience.
The Barrys knew from prior experience in mailing to this demographic that a straightforward solicitation devoid of bells and whistles would win out over more elaborate package concepts. And since the husband-wife tandem maintains a penchant for personalization, they opted to intersperse the recipient’s name, military title, address, official membership number and response deadline date throughout the mailing — a decision that would earn them a seven-year control. The package mails twice a year to organization members who care about aerospace power and a strong national defense: 100,000 in September and 20,000 in January.
About the package
“To address this membership, those packages that are successful tend to be plain and simple,” affirms Rosalie Barry, one-half of Marlton, N.J.-based direct-marketing specialist firm Chelsea Court. “We had seen direct mail kits with flashy, expensive, colorful brochures that just didn’t work. This audience tends to respond best to bland, official-looking mailings. Our outer [envelope] really smacks of that.”
The No. 10 carrier-envelope effort includes a two-page letter, reply form, two buckslips that outline the benefits of the insurance package and a BRE that makes response easy. For the outer, the Barrys featured two lines of teaser copy in blue typeface and one in red typeface: “Membership Benefit Notification”; “Non-transferable Dated Material ... Please Respond By Closing Date Inside”; and “Eligible for New Higher Benefits,” with a red arrow pointing downward to the addressee information seen through the poly window. Displayed just above the first line of copy is a small blue AFA crest, the only graphic image on the white outer.
When the package first launched in ‘97, the outer envelope looked remarkably similar to the one AFA currently is mailing, save for black typeface and a fourth line of copy. For AFA’s initial drop, the Barrys tagged on an official-sounding blurb: Communication Inside For Addressee Only. No Other Individual Permitted To Open Or Take Possession Of These Contents!
The letter is another package element that hardly has changed since ‘97. Earlier versions of the letter featured a longer lead, but for this installment, the Barrys get right to business: It is a pleasure to announce that our popular Multi-Benefit Accident Plan now pays higher benefits than ever before!
Directly below, the Barrys present a block of personalized copy in bold typeface to grab the prospect’s attention: It pays the beneficiary of Maj Gen John Sample up to $250,000 in the event of your accidental death! ...
Personalizing the package was relatively painless to facilitate, says Rosalie, due to the nature of the product.
“If we were selling a life insurance plan, the materials would read something like: ‘Dear Captain Sample, at your present age of 45, you are eligible for $100,000 of insurance at a rate of $55 a month,’” she says. “For this package, AFA is extending a much simpler insurance product, where the rate doesn’t change based on a member’s age.”
Personalization pays off
According to Paul Barry, the cost to produce the package was quite low because the letter, order form and buckslips were lasered on the same continuous form, thereby justifying the use of personalization. The individual elements were spliced apart and inserted into the envelopes.
The first of the 33⁄4-inch-by-81⁄2- inch buckslips details the prospect’s schedule of benefit payments for three possible insurance plans. The second features a summary of features and premiums and is presented vertically, with two light-blue boxes at the top that contain recipients’ personal information.
“As you know with insurance, you always have a fair amount of exclusions and technical information to communicate,” Paul says. “And the extra two pieces were helpful in doing that without incurring the costs of an expensive brochure that we already knew wouldn’t fly with this audience.”
The Barrys employed a unique, four-digit response code on the lower left-hand corner of the reply form to help the organization sort returns. With each response, AFA easily can discern what type of member replied: age, year joined, second solicitation received this year, etc.
With so many personalized variables to account for throughout the piece, the Barrys went to great lengths to assure database integrity. When the package first launched, for example, AFA did not have a salutation field in the database.
The complexity of some compound military titles could potentially have created gaffes if the data lacked accuracy. For the purposes of this effort, titles appear as “Lt Col” and “Maj Gen,” for example. But as Paul cautions, “You better not address a Lieutenant Colonel as ‘Lt’ or a Major General as ‘Maj.’ That is a real sensitivity of this audience.”