National Geographic Mailer Stays Alive

A direct mail subscription drive with an offer of a free pocketknife that began at the end of summer for National Geographic Adventure magazine is still yielding responses.

“Usually we see our gross response drop off after eight or nine weeks, but it's really the pay-up — people paying for the subscription — that keeps coming in,” said Doug Wicinski, consumer marketing director at National Geographic Adventure, published by National Geographic Society, Washington.

The gross response rate has reached 1.75 percent with the net response rate projected to reach 1.3 percent by the end of the year. The gross response includes anyone who mailed back the order card to request a subscription while the net includes those who sent in their $12 for the 10-issue subscription.

“Our expectations were for a 1.33 response rate on the gross and a net response of 1 percent,” he said. “It's tough to say why we beat expectations. It could be the package or the seasonality of the mailing or the lists we used, but everyone here is pleased with this mailing. Success or failure with such an effort is based on the lifetime value of the subscriber, and we expect them to be with us for many years to come.”

Eighty percent of the recipients were list rental names from magazines as well as mail-order buyers, including catalog shoppers. The other 20 percent came from house lists.

“We mailed to those who receive outdoorsy, adventure-type magazines and outdoor-catalog buyers who purchase from Recreational Equipment Inc. and Campmor catalog,” he said. “Other names came from Canoe & Kayak, Climbing and Bike magazines.”

The order card enticed recipients by offering a free issue of the magazine and a free pocketknife. It also mentioned a money-back guarantee for all unmailed issues. The pocketknife offer dominated the back of the envelope.

Other elements included a postage-paid business reply envelope, a “Dear Adventure Seeker” pitch letter, a two-sided fact sheet on the magazine and pocketknife, and a “Dear Adventure Lover” letter with “What's the matter — $12.00 too risky for you?” printed on the back.

A fold-out brochure included reader testimonials, adventure-related photography and copy that asked questions such as “Are you ready for the challenge?” and “Are you tough enough for ADVENTURE with NO LIMITS?”

The theme was “Stay 100% alive,” appearing on the front of the envelope and in the pitch letter, order card and brochure.

“The 'Stay 100% alive' theme came from a cover story dealing with the rules of adventure that we ran two years ago with a photo of someone jumping over rocks, and it's the same type of photo we have on the front of the envelope,” Wicinski said. “Our creative group jumped on that. They wanted to use that image to build the theme of the package with the idea that you're not 100 percent alive unless you read about and do the things that are in the magazine. We used an oversized envelope and a large brochure because we are an oversized magazine, and we felt the piece should be bigger than life.”

In addition to the “stay 100% alive” theme, the front of the envelope asked recipients to “Rip the envelope. Get extreme. Explore inside …” The plea had an arrow under it, with both being placed within a perforation that ran the length of the envelope.

“Someone on the creative team said, 'I see an arrow and it makes me want to rip something,'” he said. “It gave people an action device to get them to open the envelope.”

But using the photo from the magazine in 2000 that inspired the shot on the envelope cover was not an option because “the photo rights were outrageous,” he said.

That's when Wicinski decided to go beyond his normal duties.

“I opened my big mouth and volunteered for the photo shoot,” he said. “The original shot from the magazine two years ago was taken in Utah, and I was photographed jumping between two rocks in a park on the Potomac River in Great Falls, MD. To do this ourselves cost 10 rolls of film using our own photographer. I even used my wife's backpack. The photographer had me do it 30 times, and my legs were killing me at the end. But it would've been $5,000 or $10,000 to use the old, original picture from the magazine.”

National Geographic's nonprofit status lowered postage costs and helped limit the campaign's total per-piece expense, which was 30 cents.

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