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Science Center Hopes Imax Film Will Launch Memberships

San Diego's Reuben H. Fleet Science Center has begun a direct mail campaign to get area residents to become members of the nonprofit, which is run by the San Diego Space and Science Foundation.

A four-way split test to 75,000 residents touts membership benefits such as unlimited entry and dollars-off discounts. The main hook is free tickets for “Space Station,” an Imax movie opening soon at the museum that chronicles the building of the International Space Station. Membership at the center is 9,876, up from 5,987 two years ago.

“We're using a control package, which they developed in their previous mailings with another agency, and we heightened the intensity of the package,” said Olivia K. Smith, account director at Huntsinger & Jeffer, the Richmond, VA-based agency handling the account. “We refined the direct marketing tactics and made it more entertainment-oriented.”

The split involved a control creative with a control offer; control creative with a test discount offer; test creative with a control offer; and test creative with a test discount offer. Packages dropped late last month via nonprofit mail.

Huntsinger designed the graphics for the “Space Station” package using the control elements and then modified it for the creative test, Smith said. The components and specs were kept the same among packages to minimize production costs.

“We then recommended that they test a different offer to see if this could lift response on either of the two creative packages,” she said. “The client discounted the price, and we added a June 28 deadline for urgency. The offer split was easily accomplished with plate and laser copy changes.”

Common to all packages is the four-color glossy envelope with space images. Contents include a two-sided letter that measures 8 by 7 inches, a membership enrollment form measuring the same size, a reply envelope and a buckslip highlighting other museum features.

Though the bulk of the mailing targets prospects, 5,000 packages went to lapsed members. These people have not renewed their membership in two or three years, so they get the control package with a discount as an enticement for rejoining: $57 a year instead of $69 for first-timers.

Membership to Fleet Science Center costs $69 a year for a family or household of four. This includes unlimited entry, store discounts and eight free vouchers for viewing shows in the center's iMax Dome theater. Individuals pay $48 and senior citizens $43 for a couple.

After the discounts for consumers responding to the test creative with discount mailing, the family membership costs $57, individual $42 and senior citizens $37.

The museum used lists available through an exchange the science center has with other art and natural history institutions in the San Diego area. New lists focused on interest in science or households with children ages 8 to 16.

“Obviously, the challenge is since they're a regional science center, there's only a finite population from which to draw from, which is a challenge in terms of finding qualified lists because there's 5,000 minimums on most list orders,” Smith said. “There were several lists that we looked at and the number of names in their SCFs [sectional code facility, or the first three digits of the ZIP code] was 2,000 and 3,000 names. So unless we're willing to pay minimum charges, those lists really become expensive to use.”

So the museum limited itself to an acquisition drive in a 50-mile radius around San Diego, within reasonable traveling distance of the museum.

Huntsinger won among seven agencies because of its proposal and fundraising appeals for the American Red Cross. Huntsinger made the packages bolder to grab prospects' attention.

For instance, cover copy on the control said, “Join today for a year of unbelievable value.” New test creative reads, “Thousands will line up for the iMax Space Station experience …”

“One of the things we said when we looked at the packages is to try and put the offer on the outside,” Smith said. “And we believe the draw is the free tickets to the Imax theater.”

The reply device also was spruced up to highlight the key elements of the offer. The letter also increased its focus on benefits. The control had a lot of paragraphs, while the new one spells out the benefits in bullet points.

Fleet Science Center earmarked $42,000 for this push. But Smith, who has communicated with her client only via e-mail and telephone because of the tight budget, hopes to get the maximum bang for the buck.

“Well, results for 2001 have been about 0.73 percent,” Smith said. “We're using a benchmark of 1.3 percent. But I think we'll do better than 0.73 percent because we saw some distinct things in their previous packages that could be improved upon.”

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