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

(7) Testing

(8) Tracking

>>History of DM<<

History of Direct Mail

Based on a chapter from Effective Direct Advertising, (c) 1921.  


It is the true office of history to represent the events themselves together with the counsels, and to leave the observations and conclusions thereupon to the liberty and faculty of every man's judgment.--BACON

Direct Advertising Used in Early Days of History.
About 1000 B. C. an Egyptian landowner wrote on a piece of papyrus an advertisement for the return of a runaway slave. This, so far as we can trace, is the first example of direct advertising. The original was exhumed from the ruins of Thebes and can now be seen in the British Museum.

Though messages were imprinted upon bricks and sent direct to the prospect, in Babylonian days, direct advertising did not then grow to any extent. The first reference to direct advertising about the time of the birth of Christ is found in one of Pliny's books in which, according to the translation, we read, with reference to a poet : "He hired a house, built an oratory, hired-forms, and dispersed prospectuses."

Writing was not a common art even among the more highly educated in those early days, a fact which naturally accounts for the slow development of direct advertising.

Invention of Printing Assisted in Making It Popular.
From the invention of movable type by Gutenberg (about 1434) to the present time the growth of direct advertising has in many ways been concurrent with the progress in printing, and we shall briefly touch upon the historical "high spots" of this development as a ground-work for the possibilities of the future.

William Caxton was the pioneer printer of England, having set up his press in the year 1471 at Westminster Abbey. About 1480 he printed the first English handbill, a fore-runner of the "dodger" of to-day, the original of which can be seen in the Bodleian library at Oxford, England.

The first American direct advertisement, according to the Philadelphia Public Ledger, was a pamphlet published in 1681 by William Penn, the front cover of which is re-produced on page 3. Printers' Ink, commenting upon this, said : "Excepting for its now archaic language, some of the passages in this pamphlet would seem to be a quotation from a modern land scheme."

Following its appearance in England, where it was printed to stimulate emigration to Pennsylvania, this pamphlet was almost immediately reprinted in Dutch at Rotterdam and in German at Amsterdam.

Good direct advertiser that he was, Penn followed up his first piece with seven other pieces between 1681 and 1690. He also took a small portion of the first pamphlet and published it as a "broadside."

The Forerunner of Modern-day Real-estate Advertising.
Following his arrival in Pennsylvania Penn, in 1683, published a second pamphlet entitled : "Letter from William Penn, Proprietary and Governor of Pennsilvania in America, to the Committee of the Free Society of Traders, of that Province, residing in London."

This pamphlet is worthy of further comment. It contained a map of Philadelphia and an advertisement of Thomas Holme, who surveyed the city for Penn. What land scheme is ever published nowadays without a map?'

Unworthy rumors having been spread abroad in England about Penn's Woods, in 1687 Penn published another-pamphlet, the purpose of which was to offset these rumors. by quotations (testimonials or endorsements) from "persons of good credit" (to quote from the cover).

In England there appeared, in 1673, a pamphlet entitled : "An Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentle-women in Religion, Manners and Tongues," at the end of which there was an advertisement for a boarding school. This school probably financed the publication of the first "service" manual on record, as the advertisement and the material appearing in the book were closely allied.

Benjamin Franklin Founded First House Organ.
Benjamin Franklin, of course, stands in the forefront of early American printers, having been apprenticed to his stepbrother James in 1718, later going to Philadelphia, as every school child knows, and entering another printing office there. In 1732 he founded Poor Richard's Almanac, the prototype of the modern-day patent medicine almanac. This publication was, in effect, the first house organ in this country (see Section 56).

At the marriage of George III's eldest daughter (about 1780) a curious handbill was given away in London, which was printed upon both sides and, according to historians, "looked like a tract." Its purpose, however, was to sell a portable washing mill (machine).

In 1825 there was established in London a burial society which distributed handbills that rivaled the recent (1920) Frank A. Campbell funeral parlor advertisements at their best. Listen to one of its arguments :

A favourable opportunity now offers to any person of either sex, who would wish to be buried in a genteel manner, by paying one shilling entrance and twopence per week for the benefit of the stock. Members to be free in six months.
The money to be paid at Mr. Middleton's at the sign of "The First and Last," Stonecutter St., Fleet Market.
The deceased to be furnished as follows : a strong elm coffin, covered with superfine black, and finished with two rows, all around, close drove, best black japanned nails, and adorned with ornamental drop, a handsome plate of inscription, angel above and flower beneath, and four pair of, hand-some handles with wrought gripes; the coffin to be well pitched, lined and ruffled with fine crape; a handsome crape shroud, cap and pillow. For use, a handsome velvet pall, three gentlemen's cloaks, three crape hatbands, three hoods and scarfs and six pair of gloves; two porters equipped to attend the funeral, a man to attend the same with band and gloves, also the burial fees paid, if not exceeding one guinea.

According to Henry Sampson's "A History of Advertising from Earliest Times," from which the above is quoted, this piece produced results, since we are told that more than 1100 people joined in short order ! The Middleton referred to was not only an undertaker but also a dealer in wickerware, including baby cribs, a fact which probably accounts for the "catch phrase" used--" The First and Last."

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