Co-Op Mailing Flourishes in Senior Market

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Senior Mail USA, Denver, is expanding its advertising base this winter by adding a catalog feature to its national cooperative mail program.

From its modest beginnings 14 years ago as a local card pack, Senior Mail has grown into a company that gives advertisers an inexpensive way to reach more than 3 million households in the dynamic 60- to 85-year-old market.

The semi-annual mailing reaches income-qualified seniors in 59 markets in 15 states with offers from advertisers printed on 3 1/2 x 5 1/2-inch four-color business reply postcards. Each mailing contains cards from 15 to 30 advertisers packaged in a foil wrap that can be mailed back to the advertiser instead of being collected by the co-op. The entire mailing process -- including list selection, card design and production -- costs 2 cents to 4.2 cents per household or $20 to $42 per thousand. Travel and tours, its top performing categories, generate average response rates of 0.85 and 0.82 percent.

For its winter/spring mailing, Senior Mail will debut the Catalog Connection. Six catalogs, chosen on a first-come, first-serve basis, can reserve a spot on a catalogs-only card to generate leads. Participation in the Catalog Connection costs $5 per thousand, and category exclusivity is available. Senior Mail has discussed the program with 75 catalog companies that target seniors and expects to fill the card by the Nov. 30 deadline.

Senior Mail has compiled its database of more than 3 million names from public records, survey responses and other data sources. All names are double verified, and 75 percent of recipients have annual incomes between $30,000 and $125,000. Originally set up to break into local markets, the rising circulation of the program has caused founder Bob Moses to approach national advertisers in the healthcare, pharmaceutical, publishing and financial services fields.

"It probably was [written off] but this market is exploding and will continue to do so in the next five to years," Moses said.

Most of the program's markets are in senior-rich areas such as California, Florida and Arizona, but future mailings will expand to the East Coast. Unlike other co-ops that target all ages and ZIP codes, Senior Mail can hone in on just seniors for the same low cost.

"We allow advertisers to select local markets, which is unique among card deck marketers," said national sales executive Steve O'Donoghue. "National advertisers would have to go into a whole campaign and discard those areas not used. In our program, they can select the markets and are only charged per household delivered."

While age-specific products and services such as hearing aids and funeral homes are regular participants, leisure-oriented advertisers also are prevalent.

The involvement of a company like Tauck Tours, Westport, CT, reflects the often-ignored spending power of the 60-85 age group. According to a 1995 Bureau of Labor study, households age 65-74 spend more per capita than any other group on goods and services. Yankelovich Partners, Norwalk, CT, has found that consumers 65 and older have reached a level of financial comfort and are less likely to cut back on discretionary spending than other age groups.

"We are not talking about old people. These are people enjoying a second middle age from 55 to 75, people in the prime of life," said Ann Fishman, president of Generational Targeted Marketing Corp., New Orleans. "Marketers go after them as older while they are still active and vital."

Senior Mail can assist marketers new to the demographic with its card file program. The mailer has compiled a book that tracks the results of its last four campaigns in 30 industry categories and includes participant testimonials. Companies also can have their individual results tracked.

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