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#121 Blo Post ACLU Bomb
Denny Hatch -- Direct Mail Expert Denny Hatch -- Direct Mail Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Philadelphia, PA
Tuesday, March 23, 2021


#121 BlogPost — DATE




Posted byDenny Hatch




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

Let’stake it from the top.


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


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


Please Respond by:

January 30, 2020


Noone in his or her right mind would send money nine weeks after the drop deadcut-off date.


What About Offers with Time Limits?

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


46.Limited-time offers

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


47.Enrollment periods

Have been widely used by mail order insurance companies whoinclude a specific cutoff date for the enrollment period. It implies that thereare 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 orsavings before the official publication date of a new book. The rationale isthat it helps them plan their printing quantity more accurately.


49. Chartermembership (or subscription) offer

Ideal for introducing new clubs, publications or othersubscription services.  Usually includesa special price, gift or other incentive for charter members orsubscribers.  And it appeals to those wholike to be among the first to try new things.


50. Limitededition offer

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


Okay, admittedly this advice was published 22 years prior to DonaldTrump 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 toolate 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 intatters. 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 justimagine some tight-lipped schoolmarm or master squinting nastily throughrimless eyeglasses reading this crap in a pinched high little voice from alectern.


Boring, scholarly prose calling up the horrors of the past fouryears 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 tenthousand.”

     —Elmer "Sizzle" Wheeler


Harry Walsh on How to Write a Letter

The tone of a gooddirect 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, butrather murmurs into a single ear. It’s a mesmerizing message from one letterwriter to one letter reader.


Tell a story if possible.

Everybody loves a goodstory, be it about Peter Rabbit or King Lear. And the direct mail letter, withits unique person-to-person format—is the perfect vehicle for a story. And stories get read. The letter I wrote to launch theCousteau Society twenty-some years ago has survived hundreds of tests againstit. 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: “Afriend once told me a curious story I would like to share with you...” 

    —Harry Walsh, Freelancer


The Business of Survey Efforts Unmasked

Many yearsago I called a contact at the NRCC (National Republican Congressional CampaignCommittee) and asked him about one of his survey mailings.


“Why dopeople fill out surveys?” I asked.


“A politicianasking for advice is flattering. People love talking about themselves. Once avoter answers the first question, he's hooked. With a survey he believes he canmake a difference by going direct to the candidate. And he’ll send money hopinghis survey goes direct to the candidate's ear.”


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


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


“And how doyou process the surveys?”


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


Personal Sadness Aboutthis ACLU Fiasco

In March, 1977 my long-time client—the late Paul Goldberg—called toask 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 ameeting with ACLU president Norman Dorsen and his team at their New YorkHeadquarters. I laid a concept for a direct mail package on everybody and theyliked it a lot. I left with everyone feeling upbeat about the project and Ireturned to Stamford and started work.


Three days later an egg hit the fan. Frank Collin and a troop ofAmerican Nazis had applied for a permit to hold a rally in the town park ofSkokie, Illinois—a suburb of Chicago with and estimated 70,000 Jewish residents.Many of them were survivors of Nazi concentration camps. The Skokie citycouncil promptly passed three town ordinances forbidding the Nazi rally and anIllinois 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 notallowing the march was a violation of the Constitution’s guaranteed right to freespeech. As CEO Norman Dorsen said to me, “We went into this holding ournoses. But it was the right thing to do.”


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


I have always held the ACLU in the highestregard for doing what was right. Eventually they prevailed in the Skokie brouhaha, even though it damnnear 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 isbeing judiciously and deliciously used in this epoch of a pandemic when weinmates are happy to have free diversions to read.


• Check out my prior two blog posts analyzing the giant Mayo Clinicdirect 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 cancertainly be tested. All promotions arrive in nanoseconds.


• All information gleaned from studying past direct mailsuccesses: offers, pricing, headlines, copy approaches, copy and design can betested.


• “In direct marketing there are two rules and two rulesonly. 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! newsletterand archive service founded in 1984—revolutionized the science of how to measure the success of competitors’ direct mail. In the past 55 yearshe 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.


Denny Hatch
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