Using a coin trick to get your mail opened

direct mail coin trickRemember when people used to send direct mail packages with lots of stuff packed inside?

That was back in the good old days, before the economy went bust and everyone panicked and started mailing little postcards, invoice mailers, and fliers that all look alike.

One of my favorite old-fashioned direct mail package techniques was the “coin trick.” You attach a penny or nickel to an insert and use a window envelope to let recipients see the coin inside.

It’s irresistible. Very few people can bring themselves to throw away a real coin.

I guess no one told The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society about the “new” economy because they just sent me a package with a coin trick. Specifically, they use a 3-window envelope, showing the mailing address, return address, and a shiny nickel.

The envelope features a photo of a child holding a doll and a handwritten teaser that reads,”How can 5¢ save a child’s life?”

If for no other reason, you have to open the envelope to retrieve the nickel. Once you’re inside, you see personalized holiday address and gift labels, front and back on a single sheet. It feels weighty, thus valuable.

The top part features the nickel and a donation form asking you to return the nickel along with a generous gift to save the lives of children with blood cancer. It’s personalized and mentions your home town.

The center part shows a short, personalized letter tying the nickel to the message of how nickels can add up when you invest them in cancer research. The bottom part and the entire back of the sheet holds the address and gift labels.

The only other piece is the return envelope, so despite the weighty feel of the package, it’s fairly economical. Will I keep the coin? Yes. Will I use the labels? Yes. Does it make me want to donate? Absolutely.

I would have never opened the envelope but for the nickel. That little coin trick, as old-fashioned as it might seem, can still work magic.

Getting people to open your envelope is job one. And at the very least, that shiny nickel will get the job done.

Have you ever use a coin trick? How about other tricks?

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8 Responses to “Using a coin trick to get your mail opened”

  1. Chad on July 20th, 2010 11:14 am

    Maybe I’m an ass… or maybe I just “get” marketing.

    I took the coin and labels and threw the rest in the junk.

    (Don’t worry, I donate a fair share to other causes, I promise)

  2. Sean on July 20th, 2010 5:57 pm

    Agh! You just reminded me of those days gone by. Coins in an envelope. You’re right, you can’t throw it away it would be against the grain to throw money out.
    Today every website has that same principle with a free download, like an ebook or something. The only problem is it’s difficult to know whether the ebook will really be a shiny penny or not.

  3. Dean Rieck on July 20th, 2010 6:02 pm

    A download is similar, but it doesn’t have the tactile reality that a coin has. You’re not throwing away anything when you navigate away from a site. But with the mail piece, even if it’s just a penny, you just have to open the envelope to get it … or trash it.

  4. Rebecca Leaman on July 21st, 2010 10:49 pm

    Agreed, the coin gets me to open the envelope – but far from feeling moved to donate, I’m left with a feeling of resentment at being manipulated so cynically – and the impression of a nonprofit that lacks respect for its prospective donors. The shiny coin guilt trip ploy is a far cry from the kind of communication I’d look for from a nonprofit interested in starting a relationship with my checkbook. File it with the “you may already be a winner” direct mail pieces, please.

  5. Dean Rieck on July 22nd, 2010 1:33 am

    Well there’s always going to be a tiny minority who feel as you do about marketing tactics. But if a charity wants to do good things, it has to use tactics that work to raise funds. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t deserve your contributions. Right?

  6. Joshua Black | The Underdog Millionaire on July 22nd, 2010 11:24 am

    This is similar to the famous dollar letter than many marketers use as well, or the sticker trick, where you physically have to place a sticker on the offer application.

    One trick that still works like magic, but requires a lot of hand labor is to use live stamps hand adressed envelopes (no, not a font that looks like it was hand-adress, but the real deal), and a person’s name in the return adress, not a business name and no P.O. Box.

    It’s almost a guaranteed opener, because the prospect has no way to guarantee that it’s junk mail and they feel that they could be missing out if they chuck it.

    After that, it’s all on the copywriter to suck them in to the offer.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  7. M.I. on April 14th, 2011 10:37 am

    Whether it’s clever marketing or not, the society apparently ignored the public relations point of view on this, which was my first reaction.

    That is, several thousand (hundreds of thousands?) of envelopes with 5 cents enclosed…”only” a nickel, but that can add up to a lot of money, e.g. 500,000 envelopes is a not-so-insignificant $25,000.

    Perhaps they recoup the cost of the campaign with donations, but a group whose stated mission is to cure these diseases (likely an expensive undertaking) and make the lives of children better (ditto) could invest that more directly into their purpose. They could employ a less-expensive means of public contact.

    They could then promote that they operate in such a way (trimming all costs to pour everything they can into disease research/curing/etc.) and really take off in the minds and opinions of people at large, thereby gaining more supporters/donations.

    From a different organization, maybe this “trick” would be more appropriate. From this one, it’s a poor public relations strategy.

  8. Dean Rieck on April 14th, 2011 10:59 am

    Mike: That’s an interesting point. However, I’m not aware of any PR problem with this sort of technique, which has worked for many charities for many years. They wouldn’t do it repeatedly if it didn’t boost donations beyond the extra cost. It’s the net result that counts.

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