Shirt Mailers Fit Sallie Mae to a 'T'

Student-loan provider Sallie Mae is mailing T-shirts, rather than postcards or letters, to potential borrowers in a test of a promotion for its new home-loan business, and it's using an advertising insert to help defray the campaign's costs.

The shirts are going to people who apply for Sallie Mae home loans near Sallie Mae Home Loans headquarters in North Attleboro, MA. If successful, the program could be expanded nationwide.

“We get so much mail that's always the same thing,” said David Horvath, vice president of Sallie Mae Home Loans. “But nobody is going to throw a T-shirt away. If nothing else, we've got their attention.”

The T-shirts, produced by The Post-T Co., also of North Attleboro, go out First-Class mail in yellow envelopes. The mailers cost $10 per piece, including the T-shirt. They are similar in design and feel to envelopes typically used by major package-shipping services — with a clear plastic window on the front displaying the shirt.

Along with a T-shirt, the Sallie Mae Home Loans pieces come packaged with a black-and-white insert. It has ads from local businesses that are relevant to people buying a new home, such as landscapers, lawn-care providers, insurance providers and attorneys.

Proceeds from the insert cover 75 percent of the campaign's cost thanks to an enthusiastic response from local businesses, Horvath said. Some businesses that were interested in getting an ad on the insert didn't hear about the mailing until the last minute, while the mailer was in production, and had to be declined.

“We had to turn people away, believe it or not,” he said.

If the program is expanded nationally, Sallie Mae will bring in more partners for the insert and may co-brand the piece. Post-T is ready to customize the envelope and the insert to suit each local area where it would be used.

The mailer aims to cement the relationship between Sallie Mae and the prospective client, Horvath said. The test has been ongoing for about six weeks, during which Sallie Mae has mailed several hundred pieces.

Sallie Mae Home Loans has received positive feedback about the mailers through its agents who communicate with customers, he said. People who have applied for a home loan through Sallie Mae mention the mailer to their agents and sometimes ask for another T-shirt for their spouse.

The T-shirt-as-direct-mail idea is the brainchild of David Venter and Brad Maher, founders and co-presidents of The Post-T Co. In Sallie Mae's case, the pieces are printed on demand as Sallie Mae Home Loans receives new applications in the North Attleboro area.

Producing the pieces involves the coordination of four providers: the envelope company, the company that produces the shirt, the company that produced the insert and the fulfillment firm.

“The big thing is to make sure the spelling is correct, that everyone has seen it and that the client likes what the envelope looks like,” Maher said. “Everyone who sees this and touches this gets an impression of Sallie Mae Home Loans.”

Post-T looks to grow its business in direct marketing, Maher said. In the business-to-consumer segment, it sees opportunities in tourism and destination promotion, among other sectors. The company is pursuing the business-to-business segment as well and sees possibilities in trade show promotion, he said.

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