Category Archives: Direct marketing

How to do great charity advertising







As Mr Punch says memorably, on piers and promenades throughout the land, that’s the way to do it.

There’s an Oxfam ad appearing on the telly right now asking for donations to help the Ebola victims in Western Africa.

And it’s a superb, best-in-class lesson in how to do effective charity fund-raising.

So often these days, charity ads are produced to look like perfume ads, with an eye on the awards jury rather than a focus on maximum fund-raising. Moody black and white photography, portentous celebrity voice over and a glib, punny endline. Looks cool on your portfolio site but doesn’t bring home the bacon for the charity concerned.

But this one from Oxfam gets it bang on and I imagine does extremely well. Here are the key ingredients for successful charity fundraising, on telly or in dm or the press:

1. Look cheap. The work must look like it was bashed out in a hurry by the charity team. Not crafted by creative teams with silly big beards in their plush London offices. It must look and feel urgent and real. In other words, it should not look like advertising.

2. Show results. Crises and misery make it easy to write award-winning heart-tugging copy. But don’t  just show the downside. Make sure you show the upside too — the results of the appeal. Generate an emotional response, yes, but paint a picture of hope not despair.

3. Ask for a specific amount. This ad asks for £3. No more no less.  Often it works to give three different tick boxes and an ‘other’ one in case someone wants to give a huge amount or a very small amount that’s all they can afford. Remember: the biggest donors to charity are poor people and old people. Perhaps because they’re the ones who understand being needy?

4. Tell them what this amount will be spent on. As specific as possible. Again, this Oxfam ad does it right, it tells me my £3 will buy a treatment ‘kit’. Perfect. I really feel my £3 will genuinely  make a difference.

5. Make the response mechanism clear and simple. Show them and tell them. ASK for the donation, don’t assume showing a phone number etc is enough. It isn’t. Tell them to do it right now.

Easy when you know how.


Has copy become simply space filler?



Last week, a client referred to a piece of copy I’d written as ‘content’. As in, ‘I’ll see if anyone has any more comments on the content then get back to you’.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t care less what my clients call my output. I’m simply happy and grateful that they’ve chosen me to help them out. So if they want to, they can call my work Pea Soup with a Cherry on Top. (I’d rather they called it brilliant, cutting-edge, highly-effective, a bargain at twice the price etc but let’s not be picky.)

What I do is write lots of words that sell lots of stuff. (And I’ve lost track of the number of times people have asked me what a copywriter is. So it’s a stupid job title anyway.)

But this was the first time I’d heard the term ‘content’ used in a non-digital context. It’s been fairly common for a while to call website copy ‘content’ but not advertising or direct mail copy. The client was actually referring to a sales letter I’d written.

But does this throwaway client comment actually mark a sea-change in the advertising/marketing industry? (This isn’t a rhetorical question, I’m genuinely interested to know.)

Has the power of well-crafted, strategically powerful copy been completely relegated to a position of simply space-filler?

Has the designer and mac jockey finally climbed to the top of the perceived heap, so that pretty pictures and impossible-to-read typography are now the dominant consideration when you’re trying to sell your wares?

Has copy simply become that annoying stuff that goes in the boxes on the wire-frame marked ‘copy here: 50 words max’?

Even worse, are the words on a website now considered simply SEO fodder?

You see outfits calling themselves ‘communications agencies’ or ‘creative agencies’ or ‘marketing agencies’ everywhere now.

But scratch the surface of their glossy website and, remarkably often, you’ll find they don’t have a single copywriter on the team.

Not one. Not so much as a fresh-faced junior straight out of college.

Never mind a senior, highly experienced writer running the creative side of things.

(In the olden days, the copywriter was king. And it was very rare indeed that an agency would have an art director as the top dog in the creative department. In fact, if you’ve ever seen Mad Men, you’ll know that for a long while the writers simply sent their copy down to the art department who added some nice visuals to the copy. They knew their place.)

But things, as Bob Dylan pointed out, have changed.

Call me old-fashioned (you won’t be the first, I promise you) but how can an agency selling advertising or website creation services possibly be the real deal if there’s nobody in the building who can write some great copy?

More strangely, how can clients look at the agency and think they’re going to get some great emails or a fantastically compelling website or superbly effective advertising if the agency doesn’t have a writer on board?

Odd, isn’t it?


Direct mail is coming back. But don’t forget the golden rules…


People are saying that good old direct mail is having a bit of a renaissance. The growth of edm and the price of postage has seen DM die off in recent years but some are saying it’s on its way back, partly due to its very rarity and therefore renewed impact on the doormat.

Time will tell, but it’s my favourite medium by a long way, so I hope its popularity is restored to its former glory. (That’s a control-busting pack I did for Which? at the top of the post.)

Which is why I was so disappointed by a b2b direct mail pack I received yesterday from Parcelforce. You’d have thought, wouldn’t you, that a company whose entire existence is based on the post would be able to commission a half-decent mailing?

(I used to work on the Royal Mail account many years ago when I was a direct marketing agency Creative Director, and we made sure that every mailing we did for them was a paragon of dm best practice. It would be odd not to. Medium/message and all that.)

This mailing, however, was almost embarrassing in its cluelessness.

Because I work in the business, I ploughed through it to try and glean what it was all about whereas most recipients would have moved it swiftly bin-wise.

Clearly, Parcel Force have teamed up with the makers of the new Paddington Bear film. I guessed this because the whole mailing is festooned — no, smothered — in pictures of our favourite peruvian quadruped and lame bear puns abound. Bear essentials, bearing parcels. Oh, be still my quaking sides.

What this has got to do with a business to business delivery proposition, I have (still) no idea. The business benefits messages (such as they are) are buried beneath the bear puns, bear pictures and references to the film.

The mailing consists of two A5 landcape brochures in an A5 outer. A six pager and a 4 pager. 10 pages are therefore available to tell me why I should use Parcel Force. Most of these are utterly wasted. Four are just pictures of Paddington, ads for the film, and a Merry Christmas from New York message which leaves me utterly nonplussed. What has this got to do with anything?

I thought for a second, that there wasn’t even a letter. Repeat after me: YOU NEVER EVER SEND OUT A DM PACK WITHOUT A LETTER.

Leave out the brochure, leave out the response device, leave out the testimonials lift letter, the offer flyer. Leave out the bloody envelope, but never ever leave out a letter.

This letter was simply printed on the inside flap of the 4pp leaflet. A waste of personalisation as it gained no leverage from using my name. It didn’t read like a letter. It read like an ad. Wrong.

The headline on the letter was a tragedy in itself:

We’re bearers of Great British Delivery

What does that even MEAN? Clearly the writer was so excited about Paddington that any sense of trying to sell me something, engage with my business needs, or even hint at a reason for writing to me,  had never entered his or her head.

The letter starts by telling me that Paddington’s story ‘began with a Great British Delivery’  and ‘he has now become a part and parcel of British life’. Parcel! Geddit?


They then tell me, second para, that Paddington is coming to the big screen.


Finally, three paras in, we get to some sort of product story.  They tell me, knowingly, that ‘your customers want a carrier that can offer them choice, convenience and control’.


My customers want this? Not my own company, then? What sort of company do they think Simon Plent Direct Marketing might be? Do they think I might be advising my clients about what parcel delivery service to use? What crazy mixed-up list is my company on?

Leaving this nonsensical non-targetting aside, the letter, and in fact the whole mailer, is overflowing with cliches about the brilliance of Parcel Force’s service:

‘We put convenience first’ ‘You need a carrier you can trust’ ‘Our exceptional quality of service’  This is entirely the level of business to business engagement it operates on. How old do they think I am? Four?

Please please please. Write the letter first. Cram it with interesting stuff I might want to know. Not stuff you want to tell me. Especially stuff about Paddington bear.


Life is too short, and my time is too expensive, to waste it on rubbish like this.

Tell me what it is you’re offering. Tell me why I need it, how it will help my business. Tell me what you want me to do. And give me a good reason for doing it RIGHT now.

Other than to get me to fill in a form about what sort of parcel services I use (suddenly not how many my customers use?) in return for entering a prize draw to win a trip to, yep you guessed it, Darkest Peru, I have absolutely no idea what this mailer is for.

I have heard of Parcelforce. If my business involves parcels, I presumably know broadly what they offer. This mailing doesn’t tell me anything new, doesn’t announce a new service, doesn’t offer me a discount or any other incentive to use them. So what is the purpose of this mailing?

And, most frustratingly of all, it fails to answer the question burning a hole in the brain of every recipient: what the hell has Parcelforce got to do with a new Paddington Bear film?

The copy’s too long

No it isn’t. Yes it is. No it isn’t.

Have you ever had a conversation like this?

It doesn’t really matter if you’re on the Yes It Is side or on the No It Isn’t side.The fact is there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule about the length of copy on an ad, an email, a dm letter.

The length of the copy in any particular execution should be, simply, as long as it needs to be.

It all comes down to three simple things:

* What you want the reader to do once they’ve seen the advertising

* What you’re selling

* How much it costs

Need someone to change their bank account to your bank, need someone to give money to a charity they’ve never heard of, need someone to phone for a car insurance quote, need someone to buy your tasty sausages, need someone to buy your hair dye, need someone to take out a monthly subscription to your cable TV and broadband service…

They’re all different objectives, and the length of copy should be markedly different as a result.

Wildly simplified, the more difficult the decision that you’re asking the reader to make, the more reasons you need to convince her to make it.

Asking someone to try your scrumptious sausages next time they’re in Tesco? Awareness is enough, and perhaps a bit of discount. No copy, really.

Ask someone to give money to a charity, however, and you’re going to have to convince them it’s the right thing to do. Not only are they parting with their cash, they’re not getting anything in return other than a sense of Doing The RIght Thing. (Not to be sniffed at, as a motivation, mind you.)

This is why TV direct response charity ads tend to be a minute or more (the successful ones, anyway).

Ask someone to pay £30 every month for Virgin TV, cable, broadband etc and you’re going to have to really spell out the reasons to do it if you want your response to be anything other than pitiful. Sadly, most of the marketeers running these kinds of business don’t get it. So the responses tend to be pitiful. And the mailpacks tend to be much more expensive than they need to be, too.

And the more expensive the product or service, the longer the copy needs to be generally (if you want them to sign up there and then or make the call).

But nobody reads the body copy!

If I had a fiver for every time I’ve heard this, I would have retired to the Bahamas aged 30.

It simply isn’t true.

What IS true is this: MOST people don’t read the body copy.

Actually, most people don’t even read the bloody headline.

But those people who DO read the body copy are the people you need. They’ve read the headline and decided, hmmm, I might want this. So they read on.

They’re a tiny proportion of the people who saw the ad or letter initially. But remember, you can never sell anything to someone who’s not in the market for it.

But if they are, for goodness’ sake give them enough information for them to be able to make a really informed yes or no decision. Reel them in, persuasive fact by persuasive fact to keep them hooked til the end.

And generally, crushingly sad as art directors and designers find this fact, the longer the copy, the more stuff you sell.

So if the copy needs to be four pages long to get in all the great reasons to buy or act, then four pages long is precisely the length it should be.





The best copy in the world can’t sell something nobody wants

In Saffron Walden, where I’m lucky enough to live, shops open and then close down again in the blink of an eye. They’re always shops that sell stuff that their owners are clearly passionate about — Pin Cushions R-Us! or Dog Trousers Unlimited or Tripe-2-Go.

The problem is, their passion isn’t shared by the community at large. They simply don’t have a market. Hardly anybody wants the things they’re selling. So they fail. And quickly.

And exactly the same thing happens in the broader marketing community, too. People launch products or services without bothering to find out whether there’s a viable market for it.

They’re excited about it so they assume the world at large will be. And they’re very often wrong.

It’s easy to launch your business online, of course. Build a WordPress website, get some basic SEO, send out some emails with MailChimp and bingo, you’re a business.

It’s a sort-of puppyish “If you build it they will come!” mentality.

Except they don’t come. Unless you’ve researched your market properly, and identified a large number of punters who need what you’re flogging, they’ll stay away in droves.

And it doesn’t matter how good the promotion is ie how persuasive the copy is, how cool the corporate ID is, how witty the advertising. If nobody wants it, it won’t sell.

(And you can take solace from the fact that big multinationals get it wrong sometimes too. Because they didn’t do the right market research. Or they didn’t do any at all.)

But if you’ve got something the world is actually waiting for — the fabled ‘Better Mousetrap’ — then good advertising and marketing will help you find more customers and sell more mousetraps. Think of Dyson. Genius idea, superbly effective advertising and marketing…sensational customer service…funky design…and…and…and…

So how do you know if there’s a market out there? The easiest way is to look for someone already selling what you’re proposing to sell. Are there a few people out there making an honest crust doing something similar to your idea, at a similar price?

Yes? Then a market probably exists and your idea may have legs. Hooray! Next step, ask yourself whether you can do it better, cheaper, faster.

On the other hand, if you can’t find anyone selling what you’re proposing to sell, there are two reasons why this might be.

1: Your idea is so amazingly innovative and different that nobody else has thought of it yet. But it will still answer a need of some sort. Think Dyson: the Better Hoover without a Bag. Think of a tasty new food product. People need to eat. Think of a way to carry all your music in a tiny little hard-drive.

2: There simply isn’t a market for it.





How long should a headline be?

If there are two feedback comments that are guaranteed to get a direct response copywriter’s hackles up, his teeth clenched and his knuckles gripping the table edge whitely, it’s these two. (In fact, if you know a copywriter who doesn’t get intensely annoyed when he hears them, he or she is clearly not a direct response writer.)

1 The headline’s too long

2 The copy’s too long

Just typing these makes my heart beat a little faster, a small bead of sweat pop onto my brow. My fight or flight instincts immediately switch to red alert. Or at least orange. I’ll save red for when I have to deal with these ludicrous assertions face to face. In fact, to save my anger boiling over right now I’ll just deal with the first one in this post, lest I resort to unwarranted profanities and turn the keyboard blue.

So, here we go, deep breath.

What does The headline’s too long actually mean? Is there some intergalactic law of science discovered by Newton or Hawking that dictates how many words one may use in a specific context? You know, an immutable law like “nothing can travel faster than light” or “if you’re in a wheelchair and speak with a synthesised robotic voice people will think you’re as clever as Einstein”.

Naturally if there’s a physical restriction on the space you’ve got to print your headline, like the character restrictions in an email subject line or an SMS message, then of course, your headline can indeed be too long. Because it won’t fit.

Other than that, I can’t think of any sensible criteria for making such a judgement.

Clearly a headline that’s 100 words long might be hard to read or follow. But, having said that, there are endless examples of hugely successful multi-layer headlines which are simply split into overlines and underlines. I’ve written a good few in my time for proper DM clients who understand the real rule about headline length, which is this:

A headline should be as long as it needs to be

I appreciate this is a bit glib and prompts as many questions as it answers. But it’s true, too.

So, Simon, how do you know how long it needs to be? Well, in a direct response environment you can test alternatives and see which generates the most response: DM, EDM, Google Ads, Banners, DR press ads and inserts, for example. Easy.

And of course, if you’ve got someone like me writing this stuff for you, you’ve got a vast amount of experience to draw on to get you off on the right foot.

Your headline says whatever needs to be said to a) catch the reader’s attention and b) interest him enough to carry on reading. Your beautifully crafted body copy and subheads then takes over and whisks him forward on a magic carpet ride of persuasive magnificence until he (or she) is practically begging you to sell them the doodah you’re waxing lyrical about. Hopefully.

So if your offer is a bit complicated, then your headline might need to be a bit longer. If it’s a simple sell, your headline can be shorter.

In an awareness environment your headline might serve a slightly different function. Often it’s simply about impact and memorability. Direct response is about making the sale, awareness ads are simply about getting your name lodged in the potential buyer’s brain.

Here are a couple of interesting examples of awareness type headlines.

One of the most famous headlines ever (why???) was in a press ad for Rolls Royce by big Mad Men style agency Ogilvy & Mather. I’ve written about this in a previous blog. The headline (which was actually “borrowed” from a similar ad by Peugeot) was:  “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock.”

This headline is 18 words. And there’s a secondary headline directly underneath it, adding another 29 words. That’s near enough fifty words. Is this too long? If you think so, tell me why. I’d love to know.

I suspect that the people who say the headline’s too long these days are looking at the piece as a work of art, not a piece of sales material.  Or more likely it’s simply one of those silly, handed-down-from-generation-to generation ‘rules’ that nobody stops to question. (Like Nobody Scrolls.)

Which brings me to the second example for your perusal. The VW press ad headlined:


Is this too short? Probably not. Firstly, because it didn’t exist by itself. Unlike the Rolls Royce headline, Lemon works totally in conjunction with the picture. Of a cute ickle Beetle.

Lemon, means a bit of a failure, a bit of a klutz.  So you see the car, you see the headline. You ask yourself “why are they slagging off their own car?” And so you read the ad. Job done. The body copy rewards your interest by telling you that it’s a lemon because VW do loads of quality checks and this one didn’t pass.

So if your picture and headline are working together they can share the burden of the communication. Arguably, the Rolls Royce line doesn’t need to say “In this new Rolls Royce…” but who am I to criticise The Greatest Headline Ever Made (again)?

But the conclusion we draw from these two examples is a simple one. The headline needs to be as long as it needs to be.

In short, there are only two sorts of headlines. Ones that work and ones that don’t.


What today’s digital marketer can learn from The Reader’s Digest.

When I was working at The Reader’s Digest Association (I headed up their in-house Promotion Department for five years) people always asked me: “Why do you put all those bits of stuff in the mailpacks, isn’t it just a waste of trees?”

And the answers are, from a direct marketing perspective at least, very interesting and have a very timely resonance for today’s digital marketers.

The first thing to note about Reader’s Digest mailpacks is that their basic construction evolved over the best part of 50 years. By testing, testing, testing.

So the famous packs that used to roll out worldwide were beautiful examples of where testing gets you. It gets you busy, multiple piece mailings stuffed with all manner of printed items.

Nothing is in the pack by accident or whim. It’s there simply because it increases response.

Three important DM techniques make this so.

The first is the use of incentives. They are the magic ingredient that converts a punter from a ‘maybe’ into a ‘yes, please’.

Many of them in the RD packs were prize-draw based of course. The main incentive, and the one given the most real estate in the pack, was the main draw: ‘Win £250,000 when you respond’. ‘Yes, please’. Double your prize draw win if you respond within a week ‘Yes, please.’

And remember, the big prize draw didn’t actually incentivise purchase. You could reply and enter the draw using the ‘No’ envelope. It’s illegal to offer a simple draw for purchase in any case (hence the No Purchase Necessary on your baked bean tin competitions etc).

But 1) allowing a No response builds you a list of responsive punters and 2) people learned that they could open one of our packs and enter the draw without having any pressure to buy.

But if you did decide to buy the book or CD set or whatever, you got extra incentives—like additional competitions, often a spot the ball to win a car, for example. (The law considers this a test of skill and judgement so not a draw.) And an extra prize on top if you buy quickly.  Or a free widget.

So each incentive is tested to see how it increases response. Perhaps it first appears in the letter. It increases pull by 5%. So then it’s tested as a separate ‘action device’. A little mini-promotion in its own right.

And this is where the second principle comes in: Entry Points. Having several bits of stuff in the pack allows different people to ‘enter’ the pack from different places. Hmm, win a car, hmm, win £250,000, hmm a great DIY book, hmm some stickers to play with….

So the pack gradually build in size and complexity as each new incentive idea is tested and then given its own separate identity. (And of course these stand-alone pieces can be used in loads of different packs, all over the world too.)

(By the way, good direct marketeers are always conscious of Exit Points, too. Places where you give the reader an opportunity to stop reading. That’s why mid-copy links are such a terrible idea on your hard-selling website.)

The third key principle in a Digest pack is personalisation. This is all about making the reader feel that he or she is somehow being addressed one-to-one. The pack has been put together just for them.

So we use lots of mechanical perso and copy techniques like Reward & Recognition (‘because you’ve enjoyed our cookery books before, Mr Scrolls, I thought…’) and Selection (‘Only two people in Stafford Road will receive this chance to win £250,000…’).

We’d often make the envelope look like a personal package from DHL or something. (A good envelope could easily increase pull by 20% in a test.)

Most importantly, we make sure nothing in the pack looks like advertising. Everything is carefully under-designed

Odd is good, we used to say.

In today’s digital-focused world, making direct response stuff look like advertising is still the easiest way to kill its pull stone dead. Same in the press; editorial style ads always outpull ads that look like ads. Same on telly.

And this is the reason why banner ads that look like banner ads simply don’t work.







Is selling a science or an art?

It’s a funny old business.

If you’re a big gun creative director in the world of advertising, your salary depends on the amount of awards you’ve won.

But if you’re a big gun creative director in the direct marketing business, your salary depends on the amount of stuff your work sells.

That’s why real direct marketing copywriters are always looking for new ways to increase the response rates their work generates—always seeking a little copy twist or technique that will add a percentage here, a percentage there, to the ‘pull’ (DM jargon for response) of the campaign.

And they know these techniques work because they test. And test and test. If the new technique adds response, you keep it. If it doesn’t you ditch it. Simple.

It’s what makes direct marketing seem more like a science than an art. Which, in many ways it is. And, as in science, things often happen that are completely counter to many people’s intuition.

Here’s a great example, and a very interesting technique.

A client I was working for made their money out of those Premium Phone Lines that everyone hates.  Not a client I’m particularly proud of, but instructive none the less.

The business model was this: you send a letter telling the punter that they have been selected to receive an award. You give them a list of the awards which will be distributed. They have to ring up to find out which one they can claim. Naturally most get the cheapest one on the list, the voucher, the mp3 player etc.  The phone call they make costs a ludicrous amount like five or six quid, which is how the company makes their money.

So it’s all about getting as many people to call as possible, like any other direct mail exercise.

Now, two of the most powerful sales/response motivators are what social psychologists call Social Proof and Scarcity.

Put crassly, Social Proof works by appealing to one’s herd mentality. “Nine out of ten owners say their cats prefer it”, “87% of women said it improved their appearance of youthfulness”.

If you want to persuade someone to do something, show them that lots of other people are doing it. It’s an unbelievably powerful motivator. It’s one of the reasons testimonials always work so well, for example. (And the reason why suicide rates always increase when one is reported in the news.)

Scarcity, on the other hand, works by planting an idea that something the punter wants/is on the point of buying is quite scarce/rare so you better snap it up quick, madam. “Only two days until Sale ends”, “Last ten pairs available” “Strictly Limited Edition”. (Ebay is a master of manipulating this of course: “Don’t miss out on…”)

What I did for this client is combine these two motivators. I wrote some copy for a test which said “Experience shows us that this offer is certain to be hugely popular. We apologise therefore if the phone lines are particularly busy when you call, but your call will be answered. Please call promptly however as the number of awards are strictly limited to those shown here.”

The client was very reluctant to run the test because he felt that telling the people the lines would be busy would put people off calling.

Quite the reverse.

Inserting these simple sentences into the call to action bit of the letter increased response by enough to make it a valuable addition to the control pack.

And now you know why. “Hugely popular” and “particularly busy” leverage social proof. “Strictly limited” leverages scarcity.

All of which goes to show, if you’re really interested in selling stuff, not just winning awards, you should study human motivation and the psychology of persuasion. You’ll get far more ideas than you ever will from the D&AD annual.

Search Engine Optimisation—a cautionary tale

Last year one of my long-standing online clients, Robin, MD of Planet Numbers, phoned me up in a bit of a tizz. Apparently his website had ‘stopped working’.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

‘Well, suddenly we’re not getting any sales at all!’.

‘What have you changed on the site?’

‘Er, we’ve just had it search engine optimised by these SEO specialists. Cost us a bloody fortune.’

I went and had a quick gander at the site which, hitherto, had been pulling like a train (modesty forbids me to mention who wrote the copy).

Eek! (I actually uttered a slightly stronger word than Eek!, to be honest.)

Yes, these gurus had SEO’d all the copy, all right. And the hits were flying in from Google. Trouble was, once you arrived at the site it was virtually unreadable.

I mean, serious rubbish. Copy that looked like it had been written by a four year old. Full of all the right keywords (hooray!) but, to all intents and purposes, utterly useless in terms of driving online sales or even enquiries.

I rewrote it from top to bottom, keywords and SEO structure and all, and, as if by magic, the sales suddenly started coming in again. Literally as soon as my new copy was live.

Scary, huh?

All of which goes to show that SEO in itself is a pointless exercise. Unless your customers buy something when they get there, and unless you get the right customers going there in the first place, SEO is meaningless.

You’ve got to get them there, of course. And SEO in all its guises is the way to do it.

But when your punters arrive you’ve got to use every copy technique at your disposal to get them buying/responding or whatever it is you want them to do.

It’s about sales, not about hits.

As someone much cleverer than I, once said, HITS stands for How Idiots Track Success.


The Red Cross and The Reciprocity Principle

A door drop thumped emphatically on to the Nobodyscrolls doormat this week, from The Red Cross.

Stuffed to the gills with goodies to try and persuade me to give to this most worthy of charities. This was a direct response pack put together by somebody who really knows what they’re doing. Lovely jubbly!

As well as the letter—nice and long, two sides of smallish type, long PS. Weak headline, weakish opening—takes a while to get to the point but its heart’s in the right place.

Demands that I give a fiver upfront though; an ‘early close’ we DM folk call that. This one’s in the first headline so you can’t get much earlier than that.

But what the pack really majors on is reciprocity. This is a tried and tested sales technique that relies on me giving you something in order for you to (unconsciously probably) feel obliged to give me something in return. In this case, your hard-earned fiver.

(There are loads of interesting studies on how the principle works. Cialdini is the name to Google here.)

So how do they leverage the reciprocity principle? By including in the pack a bookmark, two greetings cards for me to use, two floral drinks coasters and a biro!

All in an envelope with a huge window so I can see the goodies before I even open it.

Now this pack will have cost A LOT. But the people who put it together know precisely what they’re doing. Because they know that the more gifts they include for me, the more likely I will be to donate to them in return. The ROI will work.

How do they know? Because they’ll have tested in small increments.

Put one gift in, response goes up. Put another one, response goes up again. Put some coasters in? Up again. And so on.

Until they get a killer ‘control’ pack that does the business for them time after time. It becomes harder and harder to beat.

And that’s when they call me in. Please.