Cheap direct mail ideas can work wonders

Like all forms of direct response advertising, direct mail is a cost-conscious medium. Creativity in direct mail is not about dreaming up clever headlines or snazzy graphics. It’s about finding the least expensive way to make the most amount of money. Low cost, high value ideas turn copywriters into heroes.

Times bookmark insertConsider this simple insert from a direct mail package I received recently offering a subscription to The New York Times. They could have enclosed a large, four-color insert detailing the benefits of subscribing. But why?

Many subscription packages these days are little more than “invoice” letters, providing a deep-discount offer and a reply form. They’re about as simple as it gets for a direct mail package.

The reason? Popular newspapers and magazines are already well-known. Most people have read, or at least heard about, publications like The New York Times. They don’t need to be told in detail about why it’s a great paper to read. All they need is a good offer at the right time.

This particular direct mail package consists of a two-color letter, printed on one side, with a perforated reply form at the bottom. The letter copy is short but personalized. A brief list of benefits is on the right, with the most important being the offer of 50% off for 6 months.

You can return the reply form in the enclosed business reply envelope, call an 800 number, or subscribe online. It’s all very straightforward.

The insert is the nifty trick I want to point out.

In direct mail, getting people to open the envelope is difficult. Maybe 80 percent or more of recipients will throw away the envelope unopened. This is ironic, since I believe most copywriters and designers spend very little time thinking about the envelope, spending most of their time on the contents. But the envelope is crucial.

In this package, the envelope is clearly branded with the Times logo and return address. So people know who it’s from. And there’s a simple envelope teaser:


Save 50% for 6 months when you resubscribe today.

Those three words, “FREE GIFT INSIDE,” is the extra incentive to open the envelope. And the gift? The nifty insert, which is a bookmark. It’s just a little bit of paper and a smidgen of ink. But it’s not a rip-off, because the bookmark is printed on slightly stiff paper, enough to serve as a real bookmark. People who read the Times are “readers,” so a bookmark is appropriate. And the bookmark provides five handy tips on solving The New York Times Crossword Puzzle, one of the most popular features of the paper.

This makes the insert just enough to get people inside the envelope and just enough to be a real gift. There’s the cleverness of it. Low cost, but high value. And a potential boost in the number of people who open the envelope and therefore read the offer inside and respond.

Question: What “cheap” direct mail ideas have you seen or used recently that offered the winning combination of low cost and high value?

Subscribe to FREE Newsletter / Subscribe to blog by RSS or E-mail


7 Responses to “Cheap direct mail ideas can work wonders”

  1. Shama Hyder on January 19th, 2008 11:44 pm

    This is a very creative one Dean. I think stickers is a good one-especially when marketing something kid related.

  2. Janice C Cartier on January 20th, 2008 1:07 pm

    “All they need is a good offer at the right time.” …and a small free relevant gift inside.

    Brilliant and simple idea. Value added for so little money. Kind of an “advance” post purchase reinforcement. Builds relationship satisfaction too.

    I like it.

    Al best, Jan

  3. Chad | ProFreelancing on January 21st, 2008 5:28 pm

    Excellent idea Dean. If I received something saying “Free Gift Inside,” I would definitely open it. I would also keep and use the bookmark. Very clever!

  4. Josef Katz on January 27th, 2008 10:47 am

    Not sure about cheap but I get a lot of personalized pieces. You know the ones created with digital printing where the market randomly tosses your name into the creative a few times. As a marketer I always evaluate the piece to see why they used my name in the creative. It usually gets me to dig a little deeper but unless the piece is done with some strategy behind it I usually don’t respond.

  5. Dean Rieck on January 27th, 2008 12:24 pm

    Josef: There’s plenty of advertising out there lacking finesse, I agree. But most people don’t evaluate ads professionally the way you do. They respond personally based on relevance. If you’re paying attention to craft, the subject matter isn’t connecting with you.

  6. Josef Katz on January 27th, 2008 1:56 pm

    Good point and completely agree.

  7. Direct Mail California » How to use “official” envelopes for direct mail on April 20th, 2009 12:26 pm

    [...] posts:Cheap direct mail ideas can work wondersHow to write the “classic direct mail package”The direct mail envelope quandary: plain [...]

FREE Newsletter
Get my monthly newsletter and a FREE 16-page Report: 99 Easy Ways to Boost Your Direct Mail Response!
Enter your main e-mail:
Past issues and more info.
Your privacy is guaranteed.