Piece's Eerie Timing Shatters Response Goal

The question, “Can Islam and democracy mix,” and the photo of a Muslim woman covered except for her eyes on a direct mail piece from The Economist that dropped Sept. 4 contributed to a response rate 30 percent greater than expected.

“Our September piece did better than any campaign we did in the last three years, both gross and net,” said Hilde Sprung, promotion marketing director for North America at The Economist, New York. “It met projections in week three, and after that it was all gravy. If you meet projections in week seven or eight, you're lucky.”

The 1.2 million pieces began arriving in mailboxes Sept. 13. At first, The Economist worried that the creative would produce a major marketing flop, given the backdrop of viewers glued to their sets and learning about those who attacked the United States on Sept. 11.

“There was major concern [that the piece would be] misinterpreted by the public,” she said. “We knew the public was not knowledgeable enough to know that we didn't send this out on the 12th. It was still hitting homes on the 18th and 19th, and the lead copy on the cover is a question that was relative to what was going on. It also was the type of picture that most people hadn't seen before, and now they were seeing images like it on TV 20 hours a day.

“[Recipients] found the piece intriguing, luckily, rather than offensive,” she said. “But it was very nerve-racking before we saw the type of response it produced.”

The image and question were taken from one of the magazine's past covers and reproduced on the envelope of the 9-by-12-inch piece. Stripped along the bottom of the cover reproduction was a yellow bar with the words “Please do us the honor of trying our publication RISK-FREE.”

Inside was a four-page letter that invited consumers to receive four issues on a trial basis. Also included was an L-shaped combination reply card and a list of benefits: four risk-free issues of The Economist; 51 percent savings off the cover price; a free copy of The World in 2002 collection; The Economist Technology Quarterly; and free access to Economist.com. The subscription offer was for 26 issues, including the four risk-free issues, for $49.90.

An 8 1/2-inch by 8 1/2-inch sheet touting The World in 2002 and a brochure were included.

“Our acquisition costs will be very low on this,” Sprung said. “I didn't anticipate the response. It blew all the other creative packages we've tested it against out of the water. We're very expensive, but the response we got on this, for a product in our price range, tells me that we're doing better than other introductory offers for products priced at half our price. Each week I keep upping the projections on it because the net response keeps increasing.”

The cost was $600 per thousand pieces.

A new piece mailed just before Christmas with a different cover that asks, “Can the world escape recession?” The image is of a man underwater in a straightjacket and held down by two weights that read “Made in USA” and “Made in Japan.”

Recipients of the September piece were 70 percent to 80 percent male and included those with an interest in world and national affairs. The Economist used names from about 80 lists, most of which were from business publications.

The piece was produced by the creative team of Talley/Tabatch, New York. The printer was Ballantine Corp., Wayne, NJ.

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