If Thou Hast Two Pennies…
In the 1950s in the United States … one direct mail copywriter reached into the tool box he shared with the designer and pulled out two shiny pennies. The copywriter was Walter Weintz, the circulation director for Reader’s Digest. Had you or your parents received one of Weintz’s new direct mail packages in the United States the 1950s, the two shiny pennies would have been visible through a second window in the outer envelope.
This famous mailing became known as the “penny mailing” in the industry. And it was the origin of what Weintz termed a “hot potato” package. So credit for the “hot potato” tool in the direct mail tool box goes to Walter Weintz.
Grab These 17 “How to..” TIPs to Increase Your Response …
Hot Potato Package …
In direct mail, we have envelopes, letters, brochures, lift notes, order forms, coupons, tokens, and hot potatoes. “Hot potatoes?” you’re thinking. There must be some mistake, you tell yourself. No, according to the direct mail experts, there is something called a ‘hot potato’ in the direct mail business. Here’s the inside scoop on “hot potatoes.”
In the book, 2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success, in the chapter on “offers,” Walter Weintz shared two principles for developing and presenting your offer. According to Weintz, “First, get action (that is, orders) by offering prospective customers a special introductory bargain. The offer must really be special – that is, not generally available elsewhere every day of the year.
“Use an action device or hot potato. This technique was developed and refined by Frank Herbert of Reader’s Digest. Frank didn’t just offer you a half-price subscription; he mailed you a $1 discount certificate, which you could use to secure a subscription for half-price. If you used it, it was worth a dollar to you. If you threw it away, in effect you had lost a dollar. It was a ‘hot potato’ you had to do something with, one way or the other. The difference between a physical, tangible, valuable object and a vaguely worded offer was all-important.”
In the chapter on creative, veteran copywriter Richard Jordan offers his advice on using hot potatoes. According to Jordan, “Hot potatoes are one of my favorite ways to boost response. A hot potato makes a prospect feel obligated to take some kind of action in response to a mailing, rather than to take no action at all.
“For example, a yes/no mailing gives the prospect a hot potato; a simple RSVP mailing is a more muted form of the same thing. (Requesting a yes or no response was an important element in my long-running membership-card control for Natural History magazine.)”
Original Lift Note …
The original lift note – created, I believe, by Paul Michael – was a hot potato. It started: ‘Frankly, I’m puzzled.’ It asked prospects if they were not accepting the accompanying offer to send in a note saying why.
A charity mails out a little contribution booklet, requesting its return with or without a donation. Again, this is a hot potato to potential donors who feel cheap returning the booklet without a gift.
“A live stamp, enclosed with a late-in-the-series renewal effort, creates an impetus for the subscriber to renew. No one likes to throw out a live stamp. And it’s nigh on impossible to peel a live stamp off an envelope and use it elsewhere.
“The ‘petition enclosed for your signature’ by political and cause fundraisers is a hot potato; you feel you have to sign and return it, and while you’re at it, why not send in a check? Try the hot potato. It works.”
What does direct mail legend, Bob Stone, have to say about hot potatoes? In his 1984 book, Successful Direct Marketing Methods, author Bob Stone talks about yes/no offers but does not refer to them as a hot potato. In Chapter Three, “Importance of the Offer,” Stone provides a detailed checklist of 28 basic offers. Offer #8 is the yes/no offer. As Stone describes it: “Yes-no. An involvement offer. The prospect is asked to respond, usually through a token or stamp, indicating whether or not he accepts or rejects the offer. Historically, more favorable responses are received with this offer than when no rejection option is provided.”
The Yes/No/Maybe Offer …
Here’s a variation on the yes/no/maybe “hot potato” as reported in the May 2001 issue of the industry newsletter, insidedirectmail. In an article titled “How to Be Less Creative – Seven Great Ideas that You Didn’t Have, But Work Like Gangbusters Anyway!” author and freelance copywriter Richard Armstrong lists great idea #5 as “The Yes/No/Maybe Offer.”
Armstrong describes this “hot potato” by telling us, “Many people credit John Francis Tighe with inventing this little gem. He’s the soft-spoken freelancer who used to write a popular column in Direct Marketing magazine called ‘Beat Your Own Control.’ Don’t try to beat your own control if it has a Yes/No/Maybe offer, though, because it won’t be easy. The genius of this offer is that it paints the customer into a corner from which there is no escape other than to buy your product. Interestingly, I don’t recall ever seeing this technique used for anything other than comp-issue subscription promotions. Why not, I wonder? This offer should be applicable to any product where ‘Yes’ means the customer agrees to buy the product immediately, and ‘Maybe’ means she’ll try it without risk for a period of time.”
The feature article appearing on the front page of the August, 2001 issue of insidedirectmail is titled “Hot Potatoes that Demand Response.” It was written by Carol Worthington Levy, an independent direct mail creative director working out of San Jose, California.
According to Levy, “‘Hot potatoes’ are the things that you can build into your mail, catalog or website to move your customer or prospect to respond more quickly. To discover and create the hot potatoes that move your customer and prospect to action, you need:
• Good data or information about your customer.
• The budget to implement some kind of program.
• A creative team dedicated to developing a hot potato
that will virtually hop around in your customers’
hands, begging for attention until they finally
act on it.
“Hot potatoes can be visual grabbers that demand attention, such as 3-D packages, unusual materials in a flat package, a website with a preliminary page that’s for your eyes only or intriguing teasers on an outer envelope. Other hot potatoes include offers, such as discounts shown off with coupons and limited time dates.”
Discount Coupons …
In fact, discount coupons are very popular with many mailers today. A recent example of a mailing containing a hot potato (actually four hot potatoes) arrived in the mail in early October in the form of an oversized postcard from Hollywood Video, a Blockbuster competitor with headquarters in Wilsonville, Oregon. Along the bottom of the 5 ½” x 11 ½” postcard were four discount coupons, each offering a video rental for 99¢. All four coupons contained the same valid-through date of 11/30/04, thereby requiring a purchase decision be made within 60 days.
Back to the insidedirectmail article, Levy went into more detail about four specific hot potatoes.
The Outer Envelope Teaser …
One of the most famous envelope teasers was written by copywriting legend Bill Jayme for a direct mail package soliciting new subscribers for the magazine, Psychology Today. It reads…
“Do you close the bathroom door,
even when you’re the only one home?”
In response to this particular envelope tease, Levy states, “… an outrageous or unusual teaser, which fulfills inside, can be a very hot potato.”
In another example, Levy examines an over-sized envelope used in a direct mail package that was sent to a list of website directors. Developed by Levy, the package offered the directors a Web portal which could draw in customers and keep them coming back again and again. According to Levy, “The psychographics told us that these people are stirred into action by the quirky and unusual, but still look for things we all do – benefits!”
The teaser copy on the front of the outer envelope read:
“What do you get when you cross Elvis,
Einstein, Godzilla, Influenza, and Super Glue?”
Levy tells us, “The hot potato is in the intriguing and unusual choice of subjects listed. To make the ‘potato’ even hotter, the back of the envelope featured the copy, ‘How to give your website the Pull of Elvis, the Presence of Godzilla, the Smarts of Einstein, the Viralness of this year’s flu, and the Stickiness of Super Glue … free! (Note, the envelope visual in the article shows the front and back of the black and bright red envelope with 4-color illustrations of Elvis, Godzilla, Einstein, a flu virus and a tube of super glue, each beside the appropriate copy line on the back).
“This hot potato was all that was needed to pull in more than twice the projected number of prospects to call and ask about the product – and take advantage of an offer which was not even mentioned on the outer envelope. Now that’s hot!”
The Wrapper …
According to Levy, “In the catalog world, a wrap or a wrapper can be a hot potato if handled in an intriguing way. For example, you often can turn a previously received catalog into a hot potato with a special offer on the wrap. You also can include other inserts in a poly-bagged or mylar-bagged catalog.
“Just a few years ago, we took a Herbalife catalog and converted it into a business generation tool by inserting a letter and a prepaid phone card, ready for use once prospects responded, along with a special offer, to Herbalife’s dormant sales force. These people were ignoring other mailings and even the catalog they had been receiving, but given these extra goodies, that phone card and poly-bag combo became a hot potato.”
The Lumpy Package …
Who hasn’t received one or more lumpy packages? And some are lumpier than others. Most of us can’t wait to rip open the envelope to see what’s inside. Sometimes it’s a small pencil or a coin affixed to a response device. We’ve even received lumpy envelopes containing small paperback books, cassette tapes touting the latest alternative health supplements and religious lapel pins.
Levi tells us, “Hot potatoes have been around in the publishing arena for years … you find a key (for a car you may have won), a coin which peeks seductively through a glassine window, a pen or pencil just waiting to be used.
One of the best purveyors of the lumpy package today in the United States is the premiums supplier Nelson Marketing, now called 4 Imprint. Occasionally its packages arrive as boxes of sample goodies for our own personal use. But these lumpy envelopes get opened quickly in my office, because of those colorful pens inside that click and change messages, have squishy fingerpads, and imitate the formidable Mont Blanc for less than a tenth of the price.
“I can’t resist finding out how affordable the pens are, and considering how often I receive these mailings, the lumpy package becomes a hot potato I must deal with.”
Before the sweepstakes rules were tightened, many banks sent lumpy envelopes containing keys to customers and prospects as part of a sweepstakes promotion. Copy on the letter inside the envelope invited customers and prospects to take the key to the local bank branch to see if it opened the lock on the treasure chest sitting in the bank lobby.
The 3-D Package …
These packages are also referred to as “dimension” mailings. In this example a series of boxes containing parts to a working electric train set was sent by Harland Direct Marketing to a group of bank marketers several years ago. As the boxes were sent separately over a period of several weeks, it was also an example of a “drip” mailing.
About these packages, Levy tells us, “Much aligned and often poorly conceived, the 3-D package is a very hot potato if correctly developed by the marketing and creative team. Just the fact that it’s dimensional helps a lot. But there are key ingredients to making the 3-D package successful.
To make a 3-D package pay off, the data (prospect select criteria) must be meticulous, and that means you simply just can’t buy mailing lists and be on your way. To make a 3-D package really successful, there needs to be a good reason for sending an object, and there must be a well-crafted letter inside paying that off.
Stage management is a key ingredient to the 3-D package, and it’s not for the inexperienced or the faint-hearted production manager.” Here Levy’s talking about the package (generally a box) and its contents. It must arrive at its destination with all the components in their proper place and each in perfect condition.
Levy continues, “… every 3-D package must have a reply form to make it work. In fact, with that, you can have a double hot potato when you use the power of dimension, AND an offer, shown proudly on the reply form. These ingredients make for an extremely powerful package that can bring in double-digit response to even the toughest customer and b-to-b market, if done correctly.”
Drip Mailing …
Have you ever heard the term “drip marketing”? You might think it was some marketing program used by plumbers or coffee makers. In fact, it is a marketing tool used most frequently as a lead generator in the world of business-to-business marketing.
Drip marketing is a campaign consisting of a series of mailings over a set period of time sent to a finely targeted audience.
It is the cost of creating, printing and mailing a series of mail packages over time that has prevented drip marketing from being used more often on the retail side of any business. The practice is more suited to business-to-business marketing efforts because it generally involves selling bigger ticket products and services to a much smaller target audience.
Direct Mail formats used in drip mailings are primarily the same as those used on the retail side, including postcards, self-mailers and standard envelope packages. The major exception is the “dimension” mailer. You’ve probably received at least one such drip mailing “dimension” package from a direct response agency. Every two or three weeks over a period of about three months you receive a box in the mail. Inside each box is some item of value and a sales message from the agency aimed at getting an appointment with you.
Several years ago to promote their direct marketing capabilities, Harland, the check printers, sent a drip mailing to a select group of bank marketers. Inside the first green and gold box was the track for a miniature train. The second box contained three, very detailed train cars. A third box contained the transformer while the fourth box held an exquisitely-detailed engine along with a message to call a Harland representative who would drop by and complete your train set. By the end of the drip campaign you had all the cars, the engine, track, transformer, cloth sack of buildings and other landscape items and your very own engineer’s hat; everything you needed to set up and run your own train set. It was definitely an attention-getter. Inside each box was a simple message using the train motif to promote Harland’s direct marketing expertise.
A typical drip marketing mail campaign consists of between four and six unique mail packages, each mailed approximately two to three weeks apart over a period of 10 to 12 weeks, primarily as a lead generating effort in a business to business environment. Direct response agencies often use drip mail campaigns to generate new business from marketing professionals, including those in banking.
Some of the Reasons For Using
a Drip Marketing Campaign Include:
• Keeps your name (Brand) in front of prospects over
a longer period of time.
• Provides a greater chance of capturing the interest
of prospects and engaging them in your message.
• Allows you to focus on a specific product benefit
in each mail package.
• Gives your prospects several opportunities to respond
or say “yes.”
• Provides more opportunities to do follow-up calling.
• Requires more detailed planning than a one-drop mailing,
which guarantees you’ll be more consistent in your
direct mail drops over a longer period of time.
• Enables you to nurture your desired relationship
with your prospects.
As for the message or messages in your drip campaign, it is very important that you repeat your core message in every package. In addition to the consistent core message, you can use each package to say something new about your company and the product or service being offered. A series of mailings enables you to better paint the picture or tell your story. In lieu of overwhelming your prospect with all the details in one mail package, you can slowly build your case over a period of several mail drops. It is also important to include your call to action in each package. Don’t wait until the last drop to ask for the order.
Jean M. Gianfagna, in an article titled: “Drip Marketing” that appeared in the February 2004 issue of “insidedirectmail” offered…
Here’s Seven Tips to
Maximize Your Chances of Success
With a Drip Marketing Program:
#1 Plan all mail packages and drops in the campaign up-front.
#2 Creative and copy should be consistent with your other
marketing materials and programs in use during the same
time (don’t isolate it by making it totally different).
#3 Select the right prospects using the most accurate
#4 Be sure you fully understand the decision-making roles
of all your prospects (for example, soliciting the CEO
or President may be more effective than soliciting the
#5 Plan your fulfillment and follow-up processes up-front.
#6 Track response for each mailing using separate tracking codes.
#7 Delete early responders from subsequent drops.
(Editor’s note: unless you are offering pieces to a set
like the Harland train set ).
By now you’ve probably identified several opportunities where a drip marketing campaign could be effectively used on the retail side of the business. One of the best ways to think about drip marketing is from the perspective of “frequency.” Instead of planning one or two mail drops a year for a specific product or service, you plan several, related drops over a period of time, increasing the frequency of contact with your prospects or customers.
By the way, drip marketing got its name from the practice of drip irrigation used on certain crops and plants.
Offer Strategy …
Levy advises, “Your offer can be an irresistible hot potato. We’ve tested many offers for Isuzu Motors – from Swiss army knives to limited edition prints – and have found some offers which are the hot potatoes of which every good marketing director dreams. But remember, no offer is a hot potato without a time limit shown clearly, and it won’t be hot if everyone is offering it. So, to make your offer a hot potato, it should be yours alone, in some way.
“Last year, we proved the power of a 3-D package generating leads for Isuzu in a head-to-head test which soundly beat the flat package both in response and in ROI – and the back-end response was the highest Isuzu had ever experienced for such a program.”
Levy ended her hot potato article with some advice on the importance of testing. According to Levy, “Of course, your best friend when it comes to hot potatoes – and all direct marketing efforts – is testing. You may find in a test that one teaser is 10 times more effective than another. Or one offer is many times more interesting to your prospect, giving you outstanding response and a pattern to play off of the next time you mail.
“In conclusion, your mailings and other marketing efforts are underachievers unless you regularly test and employ the hot potatoes that abound. It’s time to gather your team and decide which ones to use in your next efforts!”
Carol Worthington Levy’s entire “hot potato” article is available online at < http://bit.ly/Hot-Potatoes-That-Demand-Response >.
From the discussion above, it seems clear that …
A “Hot Potato” Must Meet Certain Criteria:
• It has to be extremely unique, unusual, or be deemed out-of-the-ordinary.
• It must be compelling.
• It must be accompanied by a time limit or limited-time offer.
• It must move the prospect closer to taking affirmative action.
Given these criteria, it would seem unusual to create, produce and mail a direct mail package without including at least one “hot potato.”
As you carefully review the assorted direct mail packages received at work and at home, look to see how many include some form of a “hot potato.” You may want to start a separate file of direct mail packages containing “hot potatoes.”
The holiday season is once again upon us. By now you should have received one or more direct mail packages containing a “hot potato” as they are very popular this time of year. You remember them? They are the envelopes containing sheets of Christmas seals and personalized return address stickers. Soliciting a donation, the marketers include these “hot potatoes” hoping you’ll feel bad about discarding them or using them without sending a donation. They must work as they return year after year.
Remember, with these hot potatoes, you don’t bake them, you create them.
“The Check Is in the Mail …”
Veteran copywriter, author, and direct mail expert Denny Hatch wrote about Weintz’s “penny mailing” and how it spawned the “live check” hot potato in his article, “The Check Is in the Mail,” which appears in the December 2003 issue of insidedirectmail.
According to Hatch, “The late, great direct mail guru Walter Weintz created in 1955 the hugely successful ‘penny mailing’ for Reader’s Digest. Weintz’s mailing had two windows – a large one for the name and address, and a much smaller one to the left, through which two pennies showed.
The teaser copy on the outside envelope read: ‘If thou hast two pennies …’ Inside, the letter continued:
“Keep one penny for bread … or for luck. Send back
the other penny as a down payment on a subscription
to the Reader’s Digest – a penny to seal the bargain!
You’ll get 8 months (a $2 value) for $1.01. You’ll
save 99 cents. So the penny is worth 99 cents to
you. If you use it now. We’ll bill you for the
balance of $1.00.”
This penny mailing increased response from 6 percent to 9 percent. It was brilliant and was mailed for years. Weintz called this technique the ‘hot potato’ – a coin, token, live postage stamp, redeemable certificate – that forced recipients to do something. They either had to respond or make a conscious effort to throw this valuable thing away.
Hey, if two pennies worked like gangbusters in the 1950s, $25 should work today. Obviously, you cannot send $25 in cash. But it has been long tested and proven that a live, personalized check in an acquisition mailing is effective.
“Pay to the order of …’
… followed by the addressee’s name showing through a window is a powerful teaser. Of course, you open the letter to see how much you are receiving.
No doubt everyone reading this has received a check in the mail from MCI or AT&T – for $25, $50 or even $75. The deal: Deposit this, and you are automatically switched to our phone service. Often these are ‘win-back’ efforts, sent to people who for one reason or another switched from one phone provider to another. So the jilted party sends out a live check to ‘win back’ the lapsed customer.
What’s more, unlike the two pennies (or live stamp), the check costs the mailer nothing unless it actually gets cashed. (The check as a reply mechanism is a great invention. Orders are delivered electronically, courtesy of the Federal Reserve System; and the phone companies can make the switch and start billing the customer for phone service within a couple of days, rather than waiting a couple of weeks for the reply mail to trickle in.)
A new variation of this – a live $25 check with which to open a new bank account – came in with September’s mail (2003) from ING Direct. This same mailing has been received a few times by Who’s Mailing What! Archive correspondents, which means it is likely a control and a moneymaker.
According to ING’s Web site, “ING’s parent company, Amsterdam-based ING Group, originated in 1990 from the merger between Nationale-Nederlanden and NMB Postbank Groep. Combining roots and ambitions, the newly formed company called itself ‘Internationale Nederlanden Group.’ Market circles soon abbreviated the name to I-N-G. The company later followed suit by changing the statutory name to ‘ING Groep N.V.”
The Deal Is Spelled Out
On The Front of the Check:
Bonus only available for new accounts with a new
customer as primary owner. Worth $25 only when
deposited in a new ING DIRECT Orange Savings
Account. $25 Bonus starts earning interest upon
account opening, but is unavailable for withdrawal
for 30 days. Valid through 11/30/03 – do it today!
The copy is strong and persuasive. A list of ‘direct answers to all your questions’ is even provided on the back of the 8 6/16″ x 16 ¾” letter with perforated reply form and check. [Editor’s note: The $25 personalized check/reply form appears at the top of the letter.]
More to the Point, It Hammers Home
These Three Key Copy Drivers:
#1 – Fear: Is my money safe?
>>> ING is FDIC-Insured up to $100,000.
>>> The company operates in 65 countries, employs more
that 11,000 people, and has been operating in
the United States for more than 100 years with
stock traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
#2 – Greed: What’s in it for me?
>>> $25 bonus check is enclosed ‘to get the ball rolling.’
>>> There is a 2 percent annual percentage yield.
>>> No minimum balance is required.
#3 – Anger (at other money-grubbing financial institutions):
>>> Because ING is a direct bank and operates with lower
overhead, you are never assessed fees or service charges.
>>> All your money goes to work earning interest for you.
>>> Transferring funds between savings and checking is easy.
And Other Benefits …
>>> Sales associates are available by phone seven days a
week from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
>>> Statements are sent each month there is activity
in the account; otherwise quarterly.
How influential is ING DIRECT’s mailing? The recipient of this mailing was more willing to send back the Activation Form (perforated check at the top of the letter form) than to have a work colleague, who’s also an ING DIRECT customer, refer her so he could get a referral fee. That’s the power of direct mail at work!
The December 2003 article included a photograph of the top portion of the outer envelope so you could see the teaser copy, the front of the letter form with personalized check at the top and a half-page look at the Q & A on the back of the letter form.
Teaser Copy On the Front, Top Portion
of the Outer Envelope Read:
“HERE’S $25 TO GET THE BALL ROLLING …”
At the end of the teaser copy, covering the last three letters of the word “rolling” was ING DIRECT’s huge orange ball which is part of its logo. The “$25” amount in the teaser copy line was also printed using the color orange.
The letter was short, consisting of four paragraphs which Hatch summarized in his article describing the three copy drivers and other benefits. The long P.S. at the end of the letter consisted of 53 words, including the toll-free phone number as the last word.
On the right side of the indented letter copy was a bar chart with three bars. The headline above the chart read: “Compare and the choice is clear!” The first short bar represented the annual amount of interest earned on money market accounts paying 52 basis points in interest. The second short bar represented the annual amount of interest earned on traditional bank savings accounts paying 49 basis points in interest. The third tall bar, shown in orange, represented the amount of annual interest earned on the Orange Savings Account paying 2.00% interest. Each calculation was based on a $10,000 deposit for one year.
Back to Walter Weintz …
While the exact date is unknown to your newsletter editor, Walter Weintz left Reader’s Digest and started his own direct mail agency, The Weintz Company. In 1987, Weintz’s 282-page book, The Solid Gold Mailbox: How to Create Winning Mail Order Campaigns by the Man Who’s Done It All, was published. Only a few used copies are currently available < Solid Gold Mailbox >. In 1988 Walter Weintz was named “Marketer of the Year” at the annual Direct Mail Days New York event.
Interestingly, Denny Hatch, the article’s author, worked as a copywriter and account executive at The Weintz Company for a period of three-and-one-half-years.
As stated earlier in the article, ‘live checks’ are just one example of the many “hot potatoes” being used today by copywriters and direct mail designers. They use these “hot potatoes” to create exciting new direct mail packages that get opened, read, and acted on by their recipients.
If you haven’t tested using either a live check or faux check, you might consider doing so in a future mailing.
Blog post link: http://bit.ly/If-Thou-Hast-Two-Pennies
“Always Be Marketing”
Direct Response Marketing Consultant | Copywriter
Two Comma Copy Pty Ltd
(Located in Avalon… just north of Sydney suburbs and
sometimes at my office in La Jolla (San Diego) California in the States)
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