5 Long-Time Direct Mail Controls and Why They Still Work

People ask me all the time what direct mail is most worth studying for ideas. Even before I mention whatever is being mailed in their industry, I recommend the Grand Controls.

People ask me all the time what direct mail is most worth studying for ideas. Even before I mention whatever is being mailed in their industry, I recommend the Grand Controls.

These are the best packages, the box office champions that have driven the most customer and donor response for a period of three years or more. Who’s Mailing What! has been cataloguing them for thirty years.

A few weeks ago, I pored  through my database of 1672 of them to find the longest-running controls still in the mail today. Here’s a quick look at five of them, and why they work.

1. Amnesty International

Amnesty_01I’ve written about this package before. I’m amazed that it’s still driving membership for Amnesty today, about thirty years after it was introduced. The copy and the outer get tweaked from time-to-time, but it remains, in Denny Hatch’s words, a “powerhouse of guilt.”

The letter runs down a list of places in the world where human rights abuses occur, and asks the donor to sign and return the enclosed “Message of Hope” card. Why? It explains: “His name is Constantino, and for years he was held in a tiny cell; his only human contact was with his torturers.” One day, he gets one of those personalized hope cards. It lets him know that people are working for his release. Eight months later, he is freed. A very powerful involvement device.

2. The Humane Farming Association

HFA_01This is another fundraising appeal that’s been around forever. Well, since 1998 anyway. This photo of a baby calf chained in a wooden box takes up a third of the outer. “He Can’t Turn Around- ,” it starts, “We Can’t Turn Our Backs!” The letter inside goes into rather gruesome detail describing veal industry practices in the United States, for two out of its four pages.

Again, guilt works. It’s easily the leading copy driver, in its many forms, in non-profit fundraising.

3. AAA

AAAControl_01The auto club is a giant in direct mail, offering travel and financial services besides roadside assistance with membership. A lot of its efforts have been long-term successes, like this one for more than 10 years.

The outer’s a #10 envelope that tells the prospect that they’re being offered membership privileges for not just themselves, but two drivers. The letter inside and this four-page “QuickStart Guide” focus heavily on benefits. Everyone knows their road service, but they also talk about travel, insurance, ID protection, and lots of discounts. It’s all about surrounding the customer with one-stop shopping.

4. International Living

IntlLiving_01The first intriguing thing about this newsletter subscription campaign is that it’s an envelope-within-an-envelope, a #10 inside a manila #11. Then there’s the fascinating letter. Denny Hatch writes about it brilliantly in his book, Method Marketing.

Originally written by Agora founder Bill Bonner, it still captivates after almost forty years: “You look out your window, past your gardener, who is busily pruning the lemon, cherry, and fig trees … amidst the splendor of gardenias, hibiscus, and hollyhocks.” And that’s just the start … sign me up!

5. The Sun

TheSun_01The Sun is a monthly magazine publishing essays, poems, short stories, and photographs for over forty years. This subscription acquisition mail piece goes back to the late 1990s. It’s a seven-panel self-mailer that does two great things.

First, it includes a heartfelt letter from its founder and editor, Sy Safransky, who tells his story. He then explains the magazine’s objective: to “celebrate the glory and the heartache of being human.”

Second, the mailer uses photo and excerpts from the magazine to whet the reader’s appetite for more. Remarkably, they haven’t been refreshed much over the years. They probably don’t need to be.

The bottom line with all of these timeless mailings is that they all still work. There’s something about each one that makes them stand firm against whatever competition is thrown against them, from tests as well as the outside. Study them; reach out to me and I can help you. See what makes them and the thousands of other controls work,. Then as we say around here, “steal smart.”