What's in Kim's Mailbox As part of a public service to distract you from all the stomach-churning chaos of tomorrow's election (election?? what election?), we're kicking off the week with a new edition of "What's in Kim's Mailbox". Today's critique is going to focus on a direct mail magalog (remember those? I actually still get them now and then...and have controls that get mailed as well). It's for a vision supplement...something I don't "see" a whole lot of lately. (Oh, the jokes keep coming...maybe I'm feeling punchy? I swear I'm not drinking...yet!) And this direct mail magalog is from Healthy Directions...the supplement subsidiary I launched (and named!) and grew to more than $23 million in sales within the first 3 years. That was in my former life as a marketer at what was then one of the largest direct response publishers, Phillips Publishing. In any case, it's sort of a walk down memory lane to get this magalog in the mail and be reviewing it. Except it doesn't feel like the "old" days at Phillips...when we used to hire the likes of Clayton Makepeace, Jim Rutz, and other legends who are sadly no longer with us to write our health promos. That's because I find it hard to believe the following headline would ever had made it past a freelancer's or in-house copywriter's rough first draft...let alone end up on the printed-and-mailed front cover!
This headline relies too much on its (rather limited) curiosity..."crazy" is a good headline or subject line word, but it's lost its "shock value". At the same time the word puts a negative idea into the prospect's mind that wasn't there before...that this alternative doctor is "crazy". What's more, it doesn't invite or bring the reader into the headline. It also relies way too much on the "pre-head", which most people skip over to get to the BIG type of the headline. The pre-head is the only place you find a benefit and "who this is for". Then to find out the context of "I'm not crazy!", you've got to read 4 teeny-tiny-type-faced paragraphs (done intentionally to make you feel like you have a vision problem?) Even if you can squint your eyes and read those paragraphs, it's still easy to get lost as to what the "big idea" or compelling message is here. Basically it sounds like he's been talking about lutein a long time (which makes me feel like it's "old news"), and now for some mysterious
reason, I need to take even more of it, and the right kind. But it doesn't tell me enough of the RIGHT details to make it a strong enough angle to get me to want to read on. Instead, it tries to cover too much in too little space. The remaining 23 pages of this slightly shrunken-down magalog is made up of a series of shorter, standalone "articles" each around 1-2 pages in length, with multiple sidebars throughout...versus one main letter or running copy throughout. It's a tactic that I've seen Healthy Directions use in many of its more recent direct mail promos over the years. It seems to be designed for scanners as well as those who read every word...and covers "all the bases" to pull in the prospect by jumping around to a wide range of topics related to the product.
It just goes to show there's not one just way to write a long-form promo. Other big mailers/online marketers like Soundview's Advanced Bionutritionals and Green Valley Natural Solutions (both of whom I have long-running controls for) use the tried-and-true one main sales letter/running copy approach (with sidebars throughout, especially for direct mail). But I will admit a bias for the latter type of promo. I find the Healthy Directions-style, or at least this magalog, too "all over the place". Let's get back to what I think is the biggest issue here...the lack of a clear and compelling "big idea" conveyed on the front cover. So what happens when we turn the page?
When you turn the page and look at page 2, it continues the idea that you need more lutein. And it links it here to blue light "burn-out". But that's a buried idea about 2 paragraphs in. The prospect may never get that far. And then it follows that idea right away with one about other lutein supplements cheating them of nutrients. Once again, it's jumping in and trying to do too much and addressing too many different ideas right out of the gate. Then on the next page that's facing this one, we're off to another idea...
This brings the product right up front and center to make it the hero...for a problem that to me still hasn't been clearly and compellingly articulated. It seems more about the product than the prospect. And the opening sentence throws me for a loop by referencing people's names who I would only recognize if I happened to read the small-ish testimonial boxes up at the top which are visually separated from the headline and body copy below...which the eye naturally gravitates to first. This copy continues on the next page, with a sidebar that shows a do-it-yourself visual perception test as a sort of "involvement device". I feel it's wasted "real estate" early on, as these first few pages are super-crucial and valuable. Let's wrap up by looking at page 5, where we finally get to what I think could be turned into a strong angle that could be tested with a new front cover...
The idea that we have a NEW problem or a new threat that's damaging our vision is a compelling "big idea". It brings news and curiosity, and the benefit being here's a way you can protect yourself against this invisible and unavoidable threat. (Just like so many detox supplement promos that have come before, including some I've written.) And if you can use Harvard as a way to add credibility to the threat, so much the better! The nostalgia photo of the little girl sitting close to the TV is brilliant, and the older prospect can relate. But many of them are also using cell phones, lying in bed while the blue light burns out their eyeballs (at least, that's what I'm always imagining as myself or my husband are staring into those little screens in a dark room at night). This is a common modern-day fear that could be dimensionalized more, while also bringing in the nostalgia photo reminding them of all the damage they've likely already wreaked when we "didn't know any better". It's a similar theme I've used to sell a night cream for Soundview's System41 ("They lied!" headline with an old Coppertone ad...you can find it here)...and that my friend and top copywriter Marcella Allison has used effectively for their detox supplement Pectasol--with a lead exposure warning for anyone born within a certain date range. In any case, I think this is a classic example of a promo that could potentially be much stronger by picking one main angle or "big idea" and running with it...instead of trying to do too many things and bring in too many ideas that end up diluting the power of the promo. It's also an example of "copy by committee", when too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth with their combined input. My biggest winners by far have always been when there's just one or two people looking at my copy, and one of them is the owner or president of the company or other "higher up". I'll be looking to see if this "I'm not crazy!" promo winds up in my mailbox again. If it does, it'll show me that perhaps it's actually working--and I'm the one who's crazy! Or that they haven't gotten another cover done to test. Hopefully they're on it and testing multiple cover versions to see which one wins... and not betting the farm on this one. Yours for smarter marketing, Kim P.S. If you're not one of the 90-million-plus Americans who've already voted, you know what to do tomorrow (or today, if you can do early voting...) It's the most important election of our lifetimes, so make sure your voice is counted!