Tuesday, March 23, 2021

#121 Blog Post ACLU Bomb

#121 Blog Post — DATE




Posted by Denny Hatch




Why was this gargantuan envelope mailing DOA and deader than Kelsey's nuts?

Let’s take it from the top.


This giant envelope showed up in our mailbox on March 20, 2021.


Note the message on 1) the green envelope and on 2) the personalized letter to Peggy:


Please Respond by:

January 30, 2021


No one in his or her right mind would send money nine weeks after the drop dead cut-off date.


What About Offers with Time Limits?

I went back into—Don Jackson’s and my 1998 rule book—2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success—­and here’s what came up:


46. Limited-time offers

Any limited-time offer tends to force a quick decision and avoid procrastination. It’s usually best to mention a specific date, such as “This special offer expires April 5th,” rather than “This offer expires in 10 days.”


47. Enrollment periods

Have been widely used by mail order insurance companies who include a specific cutoff date for the enrollment period. It implies that there are savings involved by processing an entire group of enrollments at one time.


48. Pre-publication offer

Long a favorite with publishers who offer a special discount or savings before the official publication date of a new book. The rationale is that it helps them plan their printing quantity more accurately.


49. Charter membership (or subscription) offer

Ideal for introducing new clubs, publications or other subscription services.  Usually includes a special price, gift or other incentive for charter members or subscribers.  And it appeals to those who like to be among the first to try new things.


50. Limited edition offer

A proven way to go for selling plates, coins, art prints or other collectible items.  The edition may be limited by date (e.g., a “firing period for plates”) or quantity.


Okay, admittedly this advice was published 22 years prior to Donald Trump and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s venal conspiracy to trash U.S.P.S. efficiency so Democrat (aka African American) mail-in ballots would arrive too late to be counted.


But… this was the ACLU’s big-time goof:


• It was (and is) common knowledge the U.S.P.S. delivery is in tatters. Clearly ACLU’s direct marketing team isn’t into following the news.


• No reason in hell existed to put a time limit on this survey mailing. There was no “Order by such-and-such a date and you save….” or any variations.


Other Broken Rules in

This Sad-Sack Effort

Here’s the lede of the main letter:


An Impersonal Lecture from “We” of the ACLU

Not one jot of warmth, charm or immediate benefits. You can just imagine some tight-lipped schoolmarm or master squinting nastily through rimless eyeglasses reading this crap in a pinched high little voice from a lectern.


Boring, scholarly prose calling up the horrors of the past four years instead of cashing in on Joe Biden and hope and promise for the future.


The salutation on this dreary impersonal thing—traditionally the a key element in any direct mail letter that makes the recipient believe it was especially "from CEO Anthony D. Romero" to "Peggy:


"Dear Friend,"


This is all the more strange when "Peggy" is personalized on three other panels—the giant outer envelope, survey letter and order form. 


Two Takeaways to Consider

• “The first 10 words are more important than the next ten thousand.”

     —Elmer "Sizzle" Wheeler


Harry Walsh on How to Write a Letter

The tone of a good direct mail letter is as direct and personal as the writer’s skill can make it. Even though it may go to millions of people, it never orates to a crowd, but rather murmurs into a single ear. It’s a mesmerizing message from one letter writer to one letter reader.


Tell a story if possible.

Everybody loves a good story, be it about Peter Rabbit or King Lear. And the direct mail letter, with its unique person-to-person format—is the perfect vehicle for a story.  And stories get read. The letter I wrote to launch the Cousteau Society twenty-some years ago has survived hundreds of tests against it. When I last heard, it was still being mailed in some form or other.  The original of this direct mail Methuselah started out with this lead: “A friend once told me a curious story I would like to share with you...” 

    —Harry Walsh, Freelancer


The Business of Survey Efforts Unmasked

Many years ago I called a contact at the NRCC (National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee) and asked him about one of his survey mailings.


“Why do people fill out surveys?” I asked.


“A politician asking for advice is flattering. People love talking about themselves. Once a voter answers the first question, he's hooked. With a survey he believes he can make a difference by going direct to the candidate. And he’ll send money hoping his survey goes direct to the candidate's ear.”


“Adding a survey in direct mail is expensive,” I countered.


“Surveys always lift response and always bring in more cash than non-survey mailings. Great PR. They make the guy feel worthwhile.”


“And how do you process the surveys?”


“We throw ‘em out. Nobody gives a damn what these people think. We just want their money.


Personal Sadness About this ACLU Fiasco

In March, 1977 my long-time client—the late Paul Goldberg—called to ask I would be interested in doing some work for the ACLU. I said yes, absolutely.


I took the train down to New York from Stamford, CT and we had a meeting with ACLU president Norman Dorsen and his team at their New York Headquarters. I laid a concept for a direct mail package on everybody and they liked it a lot. I left with everyone feeling upbeat about the project and I returned to Stamford and started work.


Three days later an egg hit the fan. Frank Collin and a troop of American Nazis had applied for a permit to hold a rally in the town park of Skokie, Illinois—a suburb of Chicago with and estimated 70,000 Jewish residents. Many of them were survivors of Nazi concentration camps. The Skokie city council promptly passed three town ordinances forbidding the Nazi rally and an Illinois judge upheld the decision.


This story made huge national news. The TV ratings were terrific and newspapers had a field day (or field month).


The ACLU agreed to defend the Nazis on the premise that not allowing the march was a violation of the Constitution’s guaranteed right to free speech. As CEO Norman Dorsen said to me, “We went into this holding our noses. But it was the right thing to do.”


Alas, the ACLU’s biggest bloc of donors—rich Jewish philanthropists—pulled the plug causing a financial catastrophe. Natch, our project was canceled unless I would agree to create the package pro bono. The ACLU was so cash strapped by the affair they couldn’t have afforded a test mailing at that point anyway.


I have always held the ACLU in the highest regard for doing what was right. Eventually they prevailed in the Skokie brouhaha, even though it damn near put them out of business. 


Takeaways to Consider

• Make sure decision-makers in your organization are on top of all the current news that might affect the profitability of your business.


• Direct mail is still a very viable advertising medium and is being judiciously and deliciously used in this epoch of a pandemic when we inmates are happy to have free diversions to read.


• Check out my prior two blog posts analyzing the giant Mayo Clinic direct mail masterpiece:





• However… given the crappy current record of U.S.P.S. delivery, if you do use mail, I urge you: Do not use a “limited time” or “cut-off date” offer.


• A cut-off date in mail offers has a new meaning: self-castration.


• With digital efforts, a limited time offer can certainly be tested. All promotions arrive in nanoseconds.


Another rule of limited-time mailings: 

Don’t use such a short window that if there’s a catastrophe (an attack on the Capitol or 8 feet of snow) the public's attention will be diverted for a couple of weeks. At the same time, don’t use a date so far in the future it loses all urgency.


• All information gleaned from studying past direct mail successes: offers, pricing, headlines, copy approaches, copy and design can be tested.


• “In direct marketing there are two rules and two rules only. Rule #1: Test everything. Rule #2: See Rule #1.”

    —Malcolm Decker


• “Don’t test whispers.” —Ed Mayer


• By “whispers,” Mayer means $49.95 v. $44.95. Blue vs. pink.


• Testing is expensive. Go for breakthroughs.



Word Count: 1372


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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. Another great dissection! Thank you, Denny.

    1. Kevin, Thank you for taking the time to write.
      This one was shooting fish in a barrel. Damn shame. The ACLU is a great organization. They deserve better.
      Do keep in touch!

  2. Denny, this is one of the most eye-openning articles you have written. Thanks, thanks, thaaaaaanks. Greetings from Chihuahua, México.

    1. Armando,
      Thank you for your upbeat and kind words.
      You make me feel useful!
      Thank you again.
      And do keep in touch.