Tuesday, May 7, 2019

#55 Imagine Ordering 100 Million Pennies for Your Envelope!

Issue #55 – Tuesday, May 7, 2010


Posted by Denny Hatch

Imagine Ordering 100 Million Pennies for Your Envelope!

“The envelope has two purposes and two purposes only: (1) to get itself opened and (2) to keep the contents from spilling into the street.” —Herschell Gordon Lewis

Four years ago I received an oversize (5-1/2" x 11") envelope with a shiny 2015 Jefferson nickel showing through the window.
    • How can you not open it?
    • This is real U.S. Treasury cash money!
    • For starters, the greed and guilt factor are at work.
     • Greed: Free Money!
     • Guilt: Trash cash? Can’t do that!

"Hot Potato" Advertising
"Use an 'action device' or 'hot potato.' This technique was developed and refined by Frank Herbert of Reader's Digest.
     Frank didn't just offer you a half-price subscription, he mailed you a $1 discount certificate which you could use to secure a subscription for half-price. If you used it, it was worth a dollar to you. If you threw it away, in effect, you had lost a dollar.
     It was a classic 'hot potato' you had to do something with, one way or the other.
     The difference between a physical, tangible valuable object and a vaguely worded offer was all-important."
Walter Weintz, former Reader's Digest circulation director

Walt Weintz (pronounced Wents) was an early boss and my most favorite of mentors. Three or four times every summer he come out of his office and shout, “It’s too nice a day to be working! Let’s go fishing!”
      We would all pile into his car and gleefully drive to the Norwalk Cove Marina. After a stop at the Skipper restaurant for vodka martinis and lobster rolls, we’d board Walt’s 50’ Bristol Trawler and head out to Long Island Sound. Late that afternoon we’d return with bundles of gorgeous big bluefish or masses of mackerel (most of which was given to dockworkers, sailors, non-fishermen and hangers-on.)

Walt made his bones on hot potato advertising.
     He went on to become the father of Political Direct Mail when he raised money and brought in votes for Eisenhower-Nixon.
     That story is upcoming in a future edition of this cranky blog.

From Walt’s New York Times Obit
As the circulation director of the Digest in the 1950's, [Walter] Weintz mailed a record 100 million pennies as part of a subscription campaign, quoting a Persian poet, 'If thou hast two pennies, spend one for bread.' He added. 'Keep one penny for bread. Or for luck. Send back the other penny as a down payment on a subscription to the Reader's Digest—a penny to seal the bargain!
     The pennies were sent from the United States Mint in Denver in open flatbed trucks to a Long Island warehouse, the floor of which collapsed under the weight.
     That mailing, along with other direct marketing campaigns that Mr. Weintz conceived, was credited in large part for raising the magazine's circulation, which had fallen by 25 percent to 4.5 million in 1948, when Mr. Weintz was hired.
     When he left in 1959 to open his own direct marketing agency in Norwalk, monthly circulation exceeded 12 million.
—Edwin McDowell, The New York Times obituary, December 25, 1996

Ordering 100 Million Pennies
When Walt Weintz asked to buy 100 million pennies from the Federal Government the Treasury Department turned him down cold.
     Such an order would roundly bollix up the distribution system and very likely cause shortages.
     Undaunted, Weintz went to the Denver Mint and negotiated for the coinage.
     Shortly after the mailing went out, Walt was summoned to Washington to be reamed out by a very pissed-off Secretary of the Treasury, George H. Humphrey.
     Fortunately Walt was the inventor of political direct mail and was the genius behind the 1952 Eisenhower/Nixon campaign. Because of Walt, Ike won by a landslide and George Humphrey got his job at Treasury.
     Walt’s penny-ante transgression (by modern standards) was ignored.

Walt's Horrendous Nixie Problem
In the world of direct mail there is the problem of nixies—undeliverable envelopes. Usually two or three percent of envelopes don't get delivered. People die, move, get married, etc.
     Caring mailers pay the USPS extra to return nixies in order to clean their lists.
     In the case of Walt's 100 million pennies, 2 percent nixies would result in two million returned envelopes and 4 million pennies.
     It was more expensive to pay for extracting pennies from envelopes and return them to the Treasury than to scrap them.
     The catch: It's a federal crime to trash U.S. currency.
     Ever resourceful, Walt Weintz contacted the local Pleasantville, NY (home of Reader's Digest) Boy Scout Troop.

The Irresistible Offer
I'll send you all our nixies containing two pennies. You remove all the pennies, keep half, give me half and send me the name-and-address labels so I can clean my lists.
     The Scouts were thrilled! It was a $20,000 windfall for the local troop.

How Tokens Worked
With his pennies Walt Weintz probably invented the first “token.” It was an “hot potato”—a thingy you had to do something with—send it back to Reader’s Digest who would send you a book or 12 issues of the magazine. Or you pocket the penny and feel good about your financial acumen.
     The penny evolved into tokens—sometimes plastic, sometimes adhesive paper, sometimes cardboard. Typically a stick-on token might proclaim FREE! Below are elements of a mailing for Southern Living recipe book by the great California creative duo, copywriter Bill Jayme and designer Heikki Ratalahti. The outside envelope had a hole in it for the FREE token to show through.

The letter—the essential intimate me-to-you message— emphasized and highlighted something was FREE and showed a picture of the token.

Here’s the order card with the actual cardboard FREE token at left.

To order, you (1) detach the cardboard token at left, (2) slip it into the slot at upper right with the instructions how to use the token. 

After inserting the token in the slot, you tear off the green left-hand side of the order card and trash it. Slip the right-hand side of the order card—with the FREE token in the slot—into the enclosed business reply (postage-paid) envelope and mail it.
     The token has apparent value (FREE). The transferring of the token (involvement device) to the order card means you have done something positive (and fun) to get the book for FREE examination.

Think Pancakes
This is akin to the action devices in the pancake recipe on the back of a Bisquick box. The cook must add two eggs and one cup of milk.
     General Mills could easily have included powdered eggs and powdered milk to the pancake mix, so all you need do is add water. By adding eggs and milk, cooks are given the satisfaction and self-worth of actually doing something positive to create homemade pancakes.

The Rise of the Ultimate Action Device — the Lowly Token
In the beginning was the penny. And Walter Weintz saw that the penny was good and he said, hey, let's put a penny or two on all Reader’s Digest mailings. And so it came to pass, and all over America people received lucky pennies ("Here's your change—in advance") from the kindly folks in Pleasantville
       And then came the "advanced" token, and knocked the penny on its ear. And Walter Weintz saw that that was pretty good, too, and he said, by jingo, we may be on to something here!  And so it, too, came to pass.
     And for the next several years a few million fortunate Americans received plastic savings tokens, “Yes” and “No” tokens, cardboard book tokens of all sizes, shapes, colors and materials that even Walter Weintz would care to shake a stick at.
     And Walter shook a stick at more than a few. And then came the Reader's Digest Sweepstakes and knocked the token on its ear—at least in P1easantville. But the token showed incredible stamina, and outside the ivy-covered walls at P1easantville, the "age of the token" really hit its stride. And proved its viability as a marketing tool in situations far removed from the Digest.
     Sometimes marketers "disguised" tokens—as a "Credit Card" for TV Guide and an "RSVP Card" for Better Homes and Gardens in the early sixties.
     But they were still action devices. Still tokens. Some personalized, some numbered, some not. We devised computer-personalized punch-out "Yes" and "No" tokens for McCall's and Redbook in the early sixties. And a computer-numbered Sweepstakes "Key" token for The Saturday Evening Post after that. And even a quiet1y elegant "Seahorse" token for the Atlantic Monthly... and a tongue-in-cheek punch-out "Armed Robbery" token for True... and a "Passport" token for Time/Life Books. And many, many more.
     There were Savings Tokens, of course, and Discount Tokens, Free Book Tokens, Special Privilege Tokens, Guarantee Tokens, First Edition Tokens, Validation Tokens, Extra Bonus Tokens, Bonus Gift Tokens, even "Maybe" Tokens.
     At least 28 different flavors in all.
     In Italy, we tested a tip-on a gold foil "Mickey Mouse" token for Mondadori—and got the highest response they've ever had on a book promotion.
     In France, we developed computer-personalized "Oui" and "Non" tokens for L'Express, the French news magazine—and achieved startling results.
     We discovered early on that a well-conceived and executed action device—plain and simple token or thinly disguised—can usually outpull nearly identical mailing pieces without them.
—Tony Arau, Freelancer, Master of Tokens

Takeaways to Consider
• A mailbox filled with colorful, tactile, gadget-happy direct mail is a lot more interesting (and fun) than my Yahoo in-box.

• “The envelope has two purposes and two purposes only: (1) to get itself opened and (2) to keep the contents from spilling into the street.”  Open Me Now, Herschell Gordon Lewis

Your carrier envelope—or the subject line of your email—accounts for 100 percent of the success of failure of your message reaching the intended reader. After all, if it doesn’t get opened, all the work you put into it is deader than Kelsey’s Nuts.
You must spend lot of time working on your envelope and your email subject line. These two elements stand between you and a response.

Six envelope hot spots—what people look at first:
1.   Cornercard/return address in upper left
2.   Addressing (Window? Label? Computer? Handwritten?)
3.   Postage (Live stamp? Metered? Printed?)
4.   Teaser copy.
5.   Back envelope flap 6.
6.   Back teaser copy
—Pat Friesen, Freelancer

Dr. Siegfried Vogele on Envelopes:
1.   People first look at their name. To see if it is correctly spelled. If the initials and title are right, it is for them!
2.   The second thing people look at is the teaser copy. Especially that teaser copy close to their name. And then teaser copy elsewhere on the envelope.
3.   The third thing people do is look at who sent them this piece of mail. What person, company or organization sent me this piece of Admail? This shows how important the cornercard of your Admail envelope is.
4.   Next is the type of postage and how it is applied. Most often live stamps get the most attention... and meter mail gets the least attention.
5.   And the fifth thing people do is turn your envelope over. Three out of four people who touch your Admail envelope will turn it over before opening. What does all this say? It says the following needs to be answered on your envelope:
         Is this Admail package for me?
         What is it all about?
         And, who is it from?

  Four actions people take when they receive mail—not just Admail, all of their mail.
1.   They open it immediately. It's important. It's interesting. Something about it gets their attention immediately and they open it at once.
2.   Or, they put it in the stack to read nights and weekends. It's interesting, but it's not important. It can wait. And how many of us are caught up with our night and weekend reading stack?
3.   They route it to somebody else. They circulate it to another. They pass it on. It's not for them—it's for someone else. And this happens both at home as well as in the office.
4.   They round file it. They toss it... Trash it. The wastebasket. The bin. They throw it away. And what's most interesting is that the decision to take one of these four actions—read it, stack it, route it or toss it—takes place in just two or three seconds per piece of mail. —Dr. Siegfried Vogele

• "All direct mail gets opened over a trash basket.
  —Leah Pierce, Freelancer


Word count: 2063

P.S.  Away for two weeks. Next planned post: Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

At age 15, Denny Hatch—as a lowly apprentice—wrote his first news release for a Connecticut summer theater. To his astonishment it ran verbatim in The Middletown Press. He was instantly hooked on writing. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army (1958-60), Denny had nine jobs in his first 12 years in business. He was fired from five of them and went on to save two businesses and start three others. One of his businesses—WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service founded in 1984—revolutionized the science of how to measure the success of competitors’ direct mail. In the past 55 years he has been a book club director, magazine publisher, advertising copywriter/designer, editor, journalist and marketing consultant. He is the author of four published novels and seven books on business and marketing.


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  1. Great story about the pioneers of dm.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. God, I miss direct mail! It was so much more fun than this digital stuff. Tactile!
      Do keep in touch!

  2. NOTE: This from Roger Craver who could not make the Comment Section work. (IF YOU HAVE TROUBLE SENDING A COMMENT, GIVE A SHOUT AND I'LL ENTER IT FOR YOU.)
    Denny....Thanks so much for reminding us of the greats --great pioneers, great techniques --of our trade. And Walter was one a GREAT.

    In 1971 Lester Wunderman and I commissioned Bill Jayme and Heikki Ratalahti to do a test mailing for the then new organization Common Cause (celebrating it's 50th anniversary soon). The package consisted of a token of the Liberty Bell showing through the a die cut in the carrier. Lovers of liberty intent on cleaning up Washington could join by inserting the token in a Yes box on the response form.

    John Gardner, Common Cause's founder, thought the entire idea was crazy. "No educated, thoughtful person will respond to this." But, Gardner was also a behavioral scientist and knew that his own opinion didn't matter. We mailed the test and the Liberty Bell token topped everything else. The best performing list in that test? Members of the American Association of University Professors.

    Denny, keep this good stuff coming.

    Roger Craver
    Roger@The Agitator

    1. Great hearing from you, Roger. Thank you for your kind words. Cheers.