What's the Last Thing You Thought Of?
Referring to the headline, I don't mean looked up. Or adapted. Or brought back after a 10-year hiatus. Think about all the different creative techniques, platforms and formats we tend to fall back on. When we test against a control package, how often is the test just another, different, tried-and-true format?
"The label package is starting to fatigue," I'll bet you've heard someone say in a meeting. "Maybe we should test a voucher package. Or a bounce-back card."
Vouchers, bounce-backs, certificates and all that ... they are good packages. I'm certainly not dissing them. I use them all the time for the simple reason that they work.
But they didn't fall out of the sky. Somebody thought them up. Somebody did some research. Somebody developed them. And somebody had the courage or temerity or desperation to give them a try.
This is a huge challenge for a copywriter. It's tempting to say there's nothing new under the sun. But, excluding Picasso, just about everything "new" is an unexpected twist on what's always been there. Thirty years ago, who would've thought of putting water in plastic bottles and selling it? Or putting simple sound chips into sockets so the light would come on when you clap your hands?
There are plenty of new ideas out there. They're just waiting to be stumbled over. But this is not just a copywriter's dilemma alone. Everyone has to be on board.
- The graphics person has to read and understand the copy — to see the words as something more than design elements to be shuffled around to fit the package's visual composition.
- The account person has to understand it too. And be prepared to sell it to the client. This can take imagination and willingness to push back a little. You're asking someone to take a sizeable risk.
- And it's the client who has to take the risk. Yes, direct mail isn't getting any cheaper, but it's always been expensive. There's a lot at stake with every package that goes out. But (pick your cliché): Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It's all about risk and reward. If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten.
Launching a "new" idea takes a genuine commitment of time, energy and resources. Is it worth it? Who knows? But calling for "innovation" doesn't mean waiting for the next guy to do something. It requires a team commitment to breaking a few rules in search of the Next Big Idea.
Our industry has developed a long list of best practices, based on experience, testing and measured results. But best practices are guidelines. When they're etched in stone they can become tombstones.
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.