Is Subscription Bump as Clear as Black and White?

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The past two direct mail pieces for Men's Health magazine have drawn 6 percent more subscriptions than the previous mailing after the magazine switched from a white background to a black one.


Men's Health had used the white background since introducing the 10-inch-by-14-inch, 12-page piece in 1999. In October, it switched to a black background in a mailing to more than 1 million households and followed that with 1.3 million copies of the same piece in March.


The color change came after the magazine tested an international piece that saw a black background do better, said Vicki Miller, consumer marketing manager at Men's Health. Miller would not provide specific numbers for the international piece or its U.S. mailings.


"It's hard to say why the black background outperformed the white," she said. "I think black may have been more eye-catching in people's mailboxes after they had gotten used to the white background, which had almost become part of our brand since we had used it so consistently for two years."


Dan Capell, editor of Capell's Circulation Report, questioned whether the increased response rate could be attributed to the color change alone.


"Unless [Men's Health] did an A-B split, that 6 percent could come from anyplace," he said. "It could have been any number of things. A better list, a better season to mail. Who knows?"


In fact, Men's Health, published by Rodale, Emmaus, PA, also tested different subscription prices with the two most recent mailings. One offered subscriptions for $19 a year with $4 in delivery fees. The other offered a $21 subscription with $2 for delivery. Without giving specific response rates, Miller said the $19/$4 offer received better results.


Men's Health expects to mail 1.8 million copies of the same piece, again with the black background, in July.


The art and copy had remained unchanged since the piece debuted two years ago. Its format looks like an oversized version of the magazine, featuring headlines and decks for articles. The main headline says "Amazing Abs" in two slightly different point sizes. Below that is the line "The 5-minute workout" in a smaller point size.


Above the headline appear decks showcasing stories such as "Drive Your Woman Wild In Bed," "How Average Guys Get Beautiful, Sexy Women" and "Huge Biceps In Just Four Weeks." Adjacent to the front-page copy is a muscular, shirtless man.


Miller said the magazine's demographic is males ages 25 to 54 with annual incomes of more than $25,000.


The second page of the piece includes a table of contents. Alongside it appears an image of a young woman in her underwear. Article teasers dominate pages three through six. For instance, one bit offers the "secret body language signs of women who are dying to meet you." But the actual information is withheld to entice the viewer into buying a subscription.


The piece also includes an offer for free paperback books by Men's Health titled "Build Muscle Burn Fat," "The Sex of Your Dreams" and "101 Men's Health Secrets."


Men's Health used an inhouse list of subscribers to other Rodale magazines such as Bicycling, Mountain Bike and Runner's World. The file was combined with a rented list, but Miller would not divulge the sources.


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