Cosmetics Marketer Alters Mail Strategy After Anthrax Scare

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The threat of anthrax contamination of the mail has caused California Cosmetics to change the format of its holiday direct mail effort.


The Calabasas, CA, company's $79.95 SilkSkin Holiday Package will be marketed for the first time via an oversized postcard that will drop Nov. 9 with a circulation around 100,000. It will go to a part of the company's house list. The piece replaces what in previous years were mailers that included business reply envelopes and a traditional offer piece along with a note to prospective customers.


Company president Bob Sidell changed the format to eliminate concerns for prospective buyers.


"The general press, in order to be topical, is creating the panic, and the press is doing the terrorists' job for them," he said. "Our biggest problem was to take a fold-over piece that is a traditional promotional piece and convert it. Space was a major problem, but we found that tightening the copy made it read better.


"When you're stuck for space, your copy has to be a lot stronger because you don't get the space to repeat [your message]."


Copy on the piece touts the holiday package's ability to counter problems caused by harsh winter weather. It also outlines the regular costs of the individual items in the package: SilkSkin Cleanser ($16.95); SilkSkin Toner ($16.95); SilkSkin Moisturizing Emollient ($29.95); SilkSkin Ultra Skin Smoother ($59.95); Body Scrub ($19.95); Sun Protector Body Lotion ($19.95); 2 SilkScents AromaMists ($15.90); 3 LipSilk Lip Balms ($14.85); and a designer overnight case ($49.95).


Recipients are informed of the $244.40 total retail value of the items that are available for $79.95 plus $7.95 shipping and handling.


Sidell is optimistic about the piece's performance despite the stream of negative economic news.


"We have a luxury in the fact that we are in an industry that is depression- and recession-proof," he said. "There is something psychological about a woman feeling better by buying lipstick when she can't buy a new dress."


Sidell realizes savings from the format change.


"In the past we ran between 55 and 60 cents per piece, including postage, which was 35 percent of the overall cost," he said. "Now the cost is 38 cents per piece. We're doing a split drop, with half of it going out First Class. So of the 38 cents, 21 cents is the average postal cost."


Last year's holiday mailing generated a 3.81 percent response rate in the United States and 10.35 percent in Canada, where free shipping is offered to compensate for the exchange rate. Canada accounts for a small percentage of the 100,000-piece drop.


"This year, I'll be a very happy camper if we get 2 percent in the U.S. because of the economy and the whole mentality of the country," he said. "But the postcard will be profitable even with a response rate that is a lot less than 2 percent."


The postcards are going only to the company's 0- to 18-month buyers. Women older than 30 are among the prospects. Many are homeowners with two cars and an average household income greater than $50,000.


"We have to consider a broad spectrum when we design a piece," Sidell said.


The choice of Nov. 9 for the single-day drop is no accident.


"We've found from past experience that Friday is the best day to drop based on what the post office does," he said. "Those within a close proximity receive delivery on Saturday while others getting it early in the following week put it aside to make calls at the end of the week.


"We traditionally will start receiving a trickle of calls on the Tuesday following the drop. The biggest day will be the second Monday following the drop, and the response rate increases from the Wednesday following the drop through the following Monday."


The Internet sites (www.silkskin.com and www.ultraskincare.com) should account for 2 percent of sales while fax orders and walk-ins at the company's Las Vegas warehouse, which are not promoted by the company, should produce 3 percent. Phone orders and those received by mail are expected to generate 60 percent and 35 percent, respectively.


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