A Guide to Direct Mail

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(1) Is DM for you?

(2) Choosing your list

(3) The Offer

(4) Call to Action

(5) The Package

(6) The Copy

>>About Copy<<
Type Faces
Paper Stock

(7) Testing

(8) Tracking

History of DM

The following is from a 1921 classic direct marketing text called "Effective Direct Advertising" by Robert Ramsay. Although it may seem strange to the reader that I quote from such an old text (and do so in some other parts of the site as well), I feel that if you can get past the dated language, you will find advice both useful and relevant.

Dimensions of Copy.
Tim Thrift, editor of the Mailbag, a journal of direct advertising, has supplemented Mr. Tipper's analysis of copy by dividing all copy into four dimensions : (1) Length ; (2) Breadth ; (3) Depth ; and (4) Height.

"The dimension of length in copy depends to some extent, at least," writes Mr. Thrift, "upon how extensively a product may have been advertised ; how difficult it may be of explanation, and the purpose to be accomplished-that is, merely to keep the name before the public or to educate that public in a given direction.

"Breadth in copy is no more and no less than comprehension of the people and conditions you are addressing through that copy, coupled with a thorough understanding of the exact relation of the thing advertised to those people and conditions. The world bows to the man who knows. No less does the public bow to and respond to the man who knows-through advertising copy. In the breadth of your copy lies the conviction with which your copy will be received. Take up any advertisement and you can instantly detect whether the person who wrote it knew whom he was addressing, what he was talking about, and the relationship of each to the other.

"With. depth it is natural to associate earnestness, sincerity, honor, and truth. Go through your copy and see how well it measures up to these standards. Note whether it is shallow in content-whether it sounds as though writ-ten to fill space and not to fulfill an object. Whether it is straightforward and earnest; rings true when you sound it. Whether it is sincere, or running through it is a false note that should not be there. Whether it was written with the honor of your house in mind. Whether it is true, or contains statements that now you know were stretched a point to make a point.

"Pitch your copy key to be in accord and in harmony with your reader and you will have little occasion to mea sure height. But how often we see technical facts, under-stood only by technical men, presented to the layman. In fact, the average catalogue of the average manufacturer is about as `clear as mud.' "

The Three Principles of Writing Good Copy.
Three principles underlie all good copy, regardless of the form the copy appears in, or the language used to convey the impression. These principles are : Unity of appeal, getting over into your reader's mind a unified, coherent, single impression. Clarity of expression,. making your language so clear that it cannot be misunderstood. Correct emphasis means placing the appeals in the order that will be most effective in reaching the largest number of readers. This might seem unnecessary to some readers. "If If I have all the proper appeals clearly expressed, -why is the order of their presentation of extreme importance?" One specific instance will prove the point. Read below the first two paragraphs of a letter sent out by a bond-selling house, to those to whom an elaborate book had been sent, upon request. The plan of the advertiser was to induce action by asking for the return of the book after a twelve-day interval had passed without an order.

Dear Sir:
If you have decided not to accept the invitation to owner-ship in this company, kindly return the book which we sent you twelve days ago, in response to your request, postage for which is inclosed herewith.
If you have decided to accept our invitation, you will still be in time to secure one of the Ownerships allotted to your State, if your application is mailed promptly upon receipt of this letter.

Results from the mailing of this letter (the first two paragraphs only are quoted) were not up to expectations. Then without any other change the second paragraph was placed first and the first second, which slight rearrangement produced 40 per cent increase in returns with checks attached.

Emphasis, it should be rioted, is often secured by means other than copy; in fact, more frequently by mechanical methods, as set forth in Chapter XI11.

Such copy, then, as is built on these principles and based upon the dimensions set forth in Section 223 parallels the sales appeal of the advertiser in so far as that is consistent with the sales policies and the campaign already planned. It is unified, by being concentrated on a single dominant idea. It makes the right and easily-understood appeal in the first paragraph, or headline, and follows this through the five steps of a sale (with the possible exception or adaptation of the fifth step), as shown in Fig. 61. As we will find in Chapter XI, this copy must be set up so as to read logically.

225. Attracting Attention with Copy.-The first paragraph of a letter must attract attention (we are not now considering the outside of the envelope, or letterhead, of course). In Sections 25 to 27 inclusive, we discussed the writing of sales letters, and reference should be made to this section now.

There lands on my desk a letter from a man absolutely unknown-even unheard of. Under his three names there is the mystic word "Advertising." The letter is dated October 16, and this first paragraph so attracts my attention that I read the rest of the letter :

Bill Anderson was puzzled-perhaps, too, you are bothered with the same problem; then you'll be interested in the way out.

The next paragraph gives me a hint, but my attention has already been secured:

With Christmas season fast approaching, Bill was up to his neck in work that would carry him over into the New Year. He had to buy a gift for his wife. . . .

Folders, mailing cards, circulars, blotters, broadsides and poster stamps, to attract attention through copy, must use headlines and subheads.

Here is a folder; opening it, this headline faces me:

Have a Look at the First Motor Car Tires Ever Made.

That headline must attract attention to the first folds of the folder. Going inside, I read the next headline :

We are the Oldest Makers of Tires and Tubes-We Know How.

Even though I do not read the copy, these subheads tell me most of the story :

Guaranteed on a basis of 4,000 miles.

Let us give you the name of the Nearest Agent or Distributor.

On the Job for more than Twenty Years.

This folder indicates how a caption (copy) under an illustration may be used to attract attention, for there is an illustration and under it we read this attention-attracting copy :

The first automobile built in America by Elwood Haynes-equipped with the first automobile tires made in America by the Kokomo Rubber Company.

Booklets, envelope inclosures, bulletins, portfolios, and similar pieces to attract attention through copy must bear attractive titles, such as "The House that Jack Fixed" for a "jack-of-all-trades" tool; "What Happened on Section 11," story of a test of red lead; "A Roof that Saves Coal" for a roofing company; "The Black Mystery Box Explained" for a primer on storage batteries, encased in a black box; "That Magic Thing Called Color" for a book-et on interior decoration with paints and varnishes. Where the house organ makes a claim for attention by copy, it, too, is largely by the appeal of its title, or name, as : "The Salt Seller," the name of a house organ for retailers of a table salt.

Imagine how little consideration was given a booklet received by an advertising firm, which had this on the cover in letters nearly two inches high :

Established March 32, 1806
(Illustration of
involved seal)

This booklet came unheralded and unsung-it had no teaser campaign ahead of it, it had not an accompanying letter to "sell" it. The advertising manager was not particularly interested in Williamstown. (The names are fictitious but the piece, unfortunately, is not.) Such an "outside" as this surely did not arouse any interest. Even at the moment this page is written the advertising manager has not read the inside pages. He is merely keeping the booklet as an example of how not to use direct advertising.

"October Tenth" is the title of a one-color envelope inclosure which attracted attention. The title was the date upon which a certain business magazine would appear. "She threw the dish-water on him and broke his heart" is the rather long but attention-getting copy used on the cover of another inclosure. "Are your farm buildings fireproof?" represents still another type of "copy" attracting attention to an envelope inclosure.

Do not misunderstand ; there are many other ways of attracting attention, either physical, mechanical, or psychological. In this section we are dealing only with attracting attention by means of copy. All attention is secured either by an appeal to the tendencies of the time-such as by a presidential election every four years ; novelty, such as a novel mechanical appeal, or a novel statement as set forth in a preceding paragraph; and imagination, illustrated by titles already referred to. While copy can be used to make all these three appeals in the ways indicated, there are other factors to be considered.

See Section 246 for further discussion on the very important topic of writing titles for booklets, inclosures, etc.

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