Interactive Features Syndicate, which put a new spin on the creative side of direct mail with personalized cartoons, is testing an e-mail registration system that could alter the way direct response messages are delivered.
The Seattle-based agency can send offers as cartoons in an HTML form that transforms e-mail into a Web page that can be personalized and passed along from one recipient to another. IFS first examined opt-in e-mail lists to create a universe for its cartoons, but with costs of up to $370 per thousand names and merge-purge restrictions decided to examine alternatives.
IFS president Stu Heinecke approached individual Web sites and discovered that most have registration databases complete with e-mail addresses. By running an opt-out e-mail sweep of the database, an e-mail list could be created without a list rental fee. Adding in the paper, postage and printing expenses e-mail avoids, Heinecke said this branded delivery is a breakthrough for clients.
“We've changed the equation here,'' he said. “To do an e-mailing, you don't have to rent these opt-in lists so e-mail will suddenly become very viable. It's graphical and interactive because it is a Web page. E-mail can mimic any graphic available in direct mail.''
IFS expects to charge advertisers $80 per thousand names for branded delivery, about what it would cost to rent a direct mail list.
“I like the pass-along aspect of it. That's giving your direct marketing campaign so many more legs,'' said Jaclyn Bovarnick, subscription director for U.S. News & World Report and Fast Company, which plans to run tests for free trials later this month. “Anything we can do to get more people to see the package or see our magazine is to our benefit.''
John Reese of Sports Illustrated, which also will start tests this month, said e-mail is a new medium for sales that can offset media-like sweepstakes marketing that are being squeezed and give prospects an easier way to respond than direct mail.
IFS will monitor how many times a pass-along cartoon is activated and collect a database of names and e-mail addresses for measurement purposes only. The database will be deleted when the campaign ends. As with all e-mail campaigns, IFS is taking measures to avoid being considered spam. Heinecke views spam as e-mail that is unsolicited, untargeted and bears no relationship between sender and recipient. Informing subscribers of a planned e-mail campaign and giving them the opportunity not to participate leaves only subscribers willing to be solicited.
In addition, IFS plans to send its HTML cartoons from the server of the participating site. Recipients receive cartoons from a domain name they recognize — and since the messages originate from its own server, a site can keep its subscriber data private. IFS is relying on this close relationship between site and user to head off potential spam complaints.
Reese said Sports Illustrated hopes to circumvent any privacy problems by sending an electronic premailer alerting prospects of an acquisition effort from Sports Illustrated and giving them a convenient way to opt out.
A test for Sports Illustrated offering a four-issue free trial subscription will start Aug. 17 on 25 sites with 20,000 names per site. To keep the cartoons targeted, IFS is establishing agreements with NFL team sites, other professional team sites and fantasy sports sites.
“Sites are affinity groups, like lists,'' Heinecke said. “On the Web, you have hundreds of thousands of affinity groups. The stronger of the two sources of prospects is the registration database rather than an opt-in e-mail list where sports is checked off among many other interests. The sites have great relationships with their visitors, many of them being fans. Web sites are a marketing resource that is making more sense all the time.''
Tests for U.S. News and World Report and Fast Company will commence as soon as enough news, business and computer-oriented registration databases are identified. For cutting-edge business title Fast Company, which receives its letters to the editor via e-mail, such a nontraditional prospecting approach has a good chance of success.
“Fast Company has very Internet savvy subscribers. E-mail puts them in an element they're comfortable,'' Bovarnick said. “For U.S. News, it's fine to bring in a different type of subscriber and get different people reading the magazine. It's a better fit for Fast Company, but you have to try everything.''
Once a participant is signed up, IFS installs the cartoon script on its server for delivery. The scripts are personalized by inserting the recipient's name in a caption. That data is extracted from the registration for each recipient. When opened, the e-mail should appear as a Web page. If the offer comes across as text, it will include directions on how to view it properly on a Web browser.
On the back end, responses will come back much quicker than regular mail — Heinecke expects most will come over within two weeks of the offer. IFS collects the responses from the server on each site and organizes them for transmittal to the client.