Dual Mailers Promise to Duel Fire Ants

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Bayer Environmental Science targeted six markets with a direct mail campaign for a new product designed to eliminate fire ants from home lawns.


Two pieces identical in size but using different copy and creative mailed Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 to 600,000 households in Montgomery, AL; Augusta, GA; Jacksonville, FL; Austin, TX; Columbia, SC; and Huntsville, AL.


A random 50-50 split determined the households that received each piece.


"Our target was slightly skewed to the female audience since they are the first people picking [the piece] out of the mail," said Marc McNulty, business manager/insecticides at Bayer Environmental Science, Montvale, NJ, which markets chemicals for the turf and ornamental industry. "The core target generally is people 35 to the mid-50s, college grads ... married ... and more of a white-collar and slightly gray group. We're also looking at an audience with children and pets."


Though the product, called TopChoice, can be applied by any lawn-care professional, TruGreen ChemLawn is named on both pieces as a company that can do the work. TruGreen ChemLawn is participating in the test through the targeting of 200,000 names from its customer list.


"All of the leads are funneled to TruGreen ChemLawn for follow-up," said Joe Peterson, vice president/direct marketing at Colle + McVoy, Minneapolis, the marketing communications agency that created the piece.


The other 400,000 names were acquired through lists from Parents, Southern Living and Better Homes & Gardens magazines.


"We want them to ask their lawn-care operators to use this," he said. "The add-on is for them to call TruGreen ChemLawn."


One mail piece shows three people from the waist down and a dog on stilts with the question: "How do you protect your family from fire ants?" It opens to the family standing, without the stilts, on their lawn with: "May we suggest another approach. Rid your yard of fire ants for up to 52 weeks with just one application -- guaranteed."


"The idea is fire ants are so heinous and make the back yard uninhabitable, and that people will resort to any means to avoid fire ants," said Tom Probst, group creative director at Colle + McVoy. "We felt the stilts were going to a logical extreme. We're not showing heads because it could be anybody. It's also a funny ... way to draw attention to a serious problem that keeps you out of your back yard."


The other piece showed a child and dog in a yard with the question: "How confident are you that your yard is safe from fire ants?" It opens to an image of a lawn-care professional with the statement: "Let us apply some confidence."


The image of a fire ant was used in different spots, and different sizes, for each piece.


"We went back and forth on [showing] the ant," Probst said. "We decided we would show it [so that people could identify] them if they found them in the yard. It evoked the thought of, 'I don't want them running around, endangering my family.' "


Total cost per piece was under 50 cents.


A television spot is airing in four of the six markets that supports the stilts concept.


"We wanted to see if TV reinforces the stilts [piece] or if the standalone [dog and child piece] worked just as well," said Peterson, who added that TV is not being used in Augusta or Montgomery.


Peterson said "we would be happy overall" with a 4 percent to 6 percent response rate, while McNulty said "we hope it could be a little more." Preliminary results are not yet compiled, Peterson said, but a complete analysis will be conducted early in the first quarter of 2004 with residual results being monitored throughout next year.


McNulty described the problem posed by fire ants as "a Southeast issue from Virginia through the Carolinas, Tennessee and up into the lower areas of Missouri through to Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and it's finding its way into the lower portions of California," but it is "more concentrated in the Southeast." He said that "once we determine the direct results from the test, we will do a full rollout in the fire ant markets next year."


The cost of an application was placed around $25 or more per 1,000 square feet of lawn.


A tear-away business reply card was part of both pieces and mentioned the one-year guarantee and a chance to schedule a free, no-obligation inspection. Along with noting the mail-back option, each BRC had different toll-free numbers and different Web addresses that could be visited to track response.


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