40 Years Later and Still Relevant

By Jeremy McGovern, jmcgovern@lessitermedia.com
Executive Editor/Publisher, Lessiter Media

In my opinion, Denny Hatch is the greatest direct mail curator the world has seen. From direct mail champions like The Wall Street Journal’s Tale of Two Young Men to obscure duds that serve as testaments on what not to do, Denny collected and catalogued direct mail pieces across industries, updating the controls and tests when new pieces arrived in the mailbox.

Denny published these findings in the WHO’S MAILING WHAT! Newsletter, which he eventually sold to (then) North American Publishing Co. in Philadelphia. I worked there on Denny’s team as my first job out of college. Today, Denny writes a marketing blog, which is one that I make a point to read whenever a new edition arrives in my inbox.

Too often, we force ourselves to only think of new ideas and concepts, especially in the growing digital landscape. There is an old saying in the advertising world that “times change, people don’t.” It helps remembering this when we struggle trying to develop innovative marketing initiatives. Denny reminded me of this in a recent blog post he wrote on a 1977 DoubleDay Book Club direct mail ad.

The book club ad (pictured above) ran across a spread in several magazines. Nearly 45 years later, several lessons are still applicable to today’s marketing efforts. Here are a few solid takeaways to keep in mind when planning your next marketing campaign:

1. Write a Dynamite Headline. The ad isn’t “Get 6 Books for Under a Buck.” Instead, with ample use of “you,” the headline compelled the reader to “indulge your fantasies.” Denny writes that could mean different things to different people, such as:

  • “Thrilling reading experiences to liven up your life.”
  • “Receiving six best-selling titles with colorful covers to be displayed on a bookshelf that will impress friends, family and business associates with your literacy and intellect.”

2. Make It Easy for the Customer to Buy. Don’t ruin your overall work with a clunky ordering process. The steps are simple and evident for the customer, along with eliminating the need to send money now. “Recruit five people — strangers, not office mates — to go through the ordering process. If anyone has problems, you should be told at once,” advises Denny.

3. Make it so the Customer Would be Foolish to Say “No.” The customers can chose six of the 45 books for less than .17¢ each. Plus, no matter what happens, they get to keep a tote bag. If your effort lacks an offer, ask yourself what is the customer’s incentive to respond?
For younger marketers, book clubs and tote bags may seem corny. But if you look past the dated elements you'll see a lot that still applies today in terms of strategic, successful marketing. When you struggle thinking of how to be unique, look back at the successes of yesteryear and stick to the basics.

What are time-tested marketing ideas you refer back to when you struggle for a new idea? We’d love to hear what you use, or how you would update this DoubleDay ad for 2020.