Punchline's E-Mail Recipients Get the Joke

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Interactive marketing company Punchline Network Inc.'s exclusive deal to use The New Yorker magazine cartoons in e-mail messages for clients is generating open rates of 95 percent and click-throughs of up to 15 percent.

The claims are based on Punchline's deliveries for marketers such as Pernod Ricard USA's Chivas Regal, Hilton Hotels, Kraft Foods' Gevalia, AARP and publisher Thompson Gale.

"New Yorker cartoons have an immediate authority and value," said Neil Fox, CEO of Punchline, New York. "What the advertiser is giving is a gift of a smile through a New Yorker cartoon."

Founded two years ago by ad veteran Fox and four others, Punchline (www.punch-line.net) has exclusive online marketing rights to more than 85,000 cartoons in The New Yorker's Cartoon Bank archive. The cartoons are segmented by advertiser categories such as liquor, pet food, technology, fitness, golf, travel, cooking and financing. Marketers can send a cartoon of choice, with the option of category exclusivity, to their database.

Punchline charges for frequency of e-mailing as well as a cost per e-mail address fee. Part of that contractual amount goes to The New Yorker as royalty and licensing fees for the cartoons.

Humor indeed softens the hard sell, as was the case with a recent e-mail. The cartoon shows one bull stretching his leg on a fence telling the other, "I'm thinking of doing Pamplona this year." The bull was referring to the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, during the Festival of San Fermin in July.

That e-mail was sent on behalf of Hilton. In a marketing message atop the cartoon, the hotel chain introduced its treadmill, or what it calls a "private running path," in its rooms. Clicking on the top panel takes recipients to the designated Hilton Web page.

The marketing does not end there. On the e-mail's left side is a search field for finding deals at Hilton hotels worldwide. Recipients also can forward the e-mail to others, register to receive Hilton news and click on tabs announcing new properties. At the bottom are additional messages about travel packages.

An e-mail from Scotch brand Chivas Regal uses the same blend of tongue-in-cheek humor with brand messaging. The cartoon shows two businessmen in a bar, one saying to the other as a football hits him on his head, "Personally, I liked this place better before it became a sports bar."

Copy in a panel above the cartoon, which Punchline calls Brand News, features the call to action: "Here's a super idea! Along about the third quarter, when your team is either ahead or behind, try a new play -- a Chivas and Splash. For an easy drinking alternative, and a winning combination, click here."

Below the cartoon is a link to www.chivas.com and the option to opt out. Recipients can send the e-mail to others by clicking on the "Share the laugh" tab above the Brand News panel.

Punchline e-mails for Chivas Regal average an open rate of 15 percent, along with a 19 percent conversion to subscription rate because of heavy forwarding. The liquor company typically e-mails brand activity updates, special offers and sweepstakes, all with a call to action.

"[The Punchline e-mails] helped Chivas Regal by giving us topicality, which keeps the brand top of mind amongst our existing consumer base," said Chris Willis, vice president of marketing for Scotch whiskies at Pernod Ricard USA, White Plains, NY. "We believe it also has a strong, unmeasured viral component, which further broadens our brand message delivery. The cartoons communicate a witty sense of humor and an intelligent view of the world around us. This is an integral part of our overall brand message, which is about making the most out of life, as portrayed in our 'This is the Chivas Life' advertising campaign."

Similarly, a Gevalia e-mail uses a cartoon appropriate to the coffee genre. A marketing strip alongside pushes a coffee gift program, doorstep delivery options and a cup collection. Those who refer a friend are offered a gift.

"We're not only providing an e-mail marketing tool to existing customers of clients, but it's a vehicle for clients to build their e-mail lists," said Tom Rosenwald, partner at Ray & Berndtson, an ad industry recruiter in New York.

Rosenwald, Fox and Internet technologist Terry Chabrowe founded Punchline two years ago with Sam Alfstad and Charles Harding, creative director and advertising director, respectively.

Even The New Yorker sends e-mails to sell its products, using its own system and not Punchline's. In a recent e-mail, a cartoon for its online bookstore showed a bigger dog telling the smaller: "My advice is to learn all the tricks you can while you're young."

The New Yorker's Cartoon Bank (www.cartoonbank.com) e-mails its database roughly twice a month to promote books, posters, diaries and sketches. Content is generated from the 17 to 18 cartoons featured weekly in the 79-year-old magazine owned by Conde Nast Publications.

"In our culture, humor is becoming such a force because it helps us deal with the realities of the world," said Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker.

And humor pays. An e-mail with cartoon sent July 27 to 70,000 registrants on www.newyorker.com garnered 437 orders and $26,000 in sales that day. The product was "The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker." The $60 book, with two CDs, includes every cartoon published by the magazine.

The e-mail's initial success in pushing the anthology does not surprise Mankoff. A cartoonist himself, Mankoff also is founder and president of Cartoon Bank, a repository of cartoons he sold to Conde Nast in 1997.

"It's using humor as a medium to communicate an idea to an intelligent audience," he said. "People understand that a New Yorker cartoon is serious business in a funny way."

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