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Afghanistan Map Offer Boosts National Geographic Subscriptions

National Geographic's scramble to offer a free map of Afghanistan in a 23 million piece subscription drive that went out in October contributed to a response rate 12 percent higher than the anticipated 1 percent.

“We were originally going to feature the world map as the premium offered through the direct mail piece, but then Sept. 11 happened, and that took place after the pieces had been printed,” said Kitty Carroll Colbert, vice president of consumer marketing at the National Geographic Society, Washington.

National Geographic originally planned to include the map with a profile of Afghanistan to appear in the magazine early this year but decided days after Sept. 11 to move the feature to the December issue. The two-sided, 20-by-31-inch map also includes parts of Pakistan, India, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, the Kashmir region and other countries involved in the conflict.

The direct mail effort consisted of two pieces, each with a circulation of 11.5 million. One used an envelope that measured 9 7/16 inches by 4 1/8 inches while the other measured 8 inches by 4 1/4 inches. The smaller envelope featured “Exclusive $19 introductory offer!” on the front while the larger one had “ONLY $19!” on the front and told recipients they were “invited to accept a complimentary World map plus 12 issues of National Geographic magazine with your risk-free membership.

Both mail pieces included business reply envelopes, a letter from the chairman, a member benefit sheet and a membership acceptance form that mentioned savings since the regular subscription price is $34.

“It was random regarding who got the larger and smaller pieces,” Colbert said. “The larger format, based on past mailings, seemed to lift response, and we wanted to see if that would happen here. The smaller piece has been our control for years.”

The split for both mailings was 30 percent expires and 70 percent names acquired through list rentals.

“We use magazine subscriber lists, including Time and Newsweek, and we also target people who, for example, are gardening enthusiasts as well as those interested in such topics as ancient civilizations and history,” she said. “Our readers are 55 percent male, and we have a worldwide circulation of 7.7 million, which includes a domestic circulation of 6 million.”

Those who responded to the direct mail pieces received the world map and the Afghanistan-Pakistan map as a premium.

“We had to redo the YOURS FREE! sheets for both pieces in order to incorporate both the free world map and the free Afghanistan and Pakistan map,”she said. “For the larger piece, we also had to print a FREE BONUS! map of Afghanistan sticker, and for the small piece we had to print a sticker that said FREE MAPS World Afghanistan.”

Despite the extra work, there was no delay in the mailing schedule. Producing the stickers and the new YOURS FREE! sheets cost $60,000 to $70,000 for the larger pieces and about $40,000 for the smaller pieces. Overall, the mailing cost $250 per 1,000 pieces.

Colbert also noted the challenges presented by the anthrax attacks because the mailings carried a Washington, DC, return address.

“We wouldn't have done anything differently,” she said. “I think we will do something gutsy like this again if events warrant it, but our mission is to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge. And a map of Afghanistan was right on target.”

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