The severest test of an advertising man is in selling goods by mail. But that is a school from which he must graduate before he can hope for success. There cost and result are immediately apparent. False theories melt away like snowflakes in the sun. The advertising is profitable or it is not, clearly on the face of returns. Figures which do not lie tell one at once the merits of an ad.
This puts men on their mettle. All guesswork is eliminated. Every mistake is conspicuous. One quickly loses his conceit by learning how often his judgment errs — often nine times in ten.
There one learns that advertising must be done on a scientific basis to have any fair chance of success. And he learns that every wasted dollar adds to the cost of results. Here is a tough efficiency and economy under a master who can't be fooled. Then, and only then, is he apt to apply the same principles and keys to all advertising.
A man was selling a five-dollar article. The replies from his ad cost him 85 cents. Another man submitted an ad which he thought better. The replies cost $14.20 each. Another man submitted an ad which for two years brought replies at an average of 41 cents each. Consider the difference on 250,000 replies per year. Think how valuable was the man who cut the cost in two. Think what it would have meant to continue that $14.20 ad without any key on returns.
Yet there are thousands of advertisers who do just that. They spend large sums on a guess. And they are doing what that man did — paying for sales from 2 to 35 times what they need cost. A study of mail order advertising reveals many things worth learning. It is a prime subject for study. In the first place, if continued, you know what pays. It is therefore good advertising as applied to that line.
The probability is that the ad has resulted from many traced comparisons. It is therefore the best advertising, not theoretical. It will not deceive you. The lessons it teaches are principles which wise men apply to all advertising.
Mail order advertising is always set in small type. It is usually set in smaller type than ordinary print. That economy of space is universal. So it proves conclusively that larger type does not pay. Remember that when you double your space by doubling the size of your type. The ad may still be profitable. But traced returns have proved that you paying a double price for sales.
In mail order advertising there is no waste space. Every line is utilized. Borders are rarely used. Remember that when you are tempted to leave valuable space unoccupied.
In mail order advertising there is no palaver. There is no boasting, save of super-service. There is no useless talk. There is no attempt at entertainment. There is nothing to amuse. Mail order advertising usually contains a coupon. That is there to cut out as a reminder of something the reader has decided to do.
Mail order advertisers know that readers forget. They are reading a magazine of interest. They may be absorbed in a story. A large percentage of people who read an ad and decide to act will forget that decision in five minutes. The mail order advertiser knows that waste by tests, and he does not propose to accept it. So he inserts that reminder to be cut out, and it turns when the reader is ready to act.
In mail order advertising the pictures are always to the point. They are salesmen in themselves. They earn space they occupy. The size is gauged by their importance. The picture of a dress one is trying to sell may occupy much space. Less important things get smaller spaces.
Pictures in ordinary advertising may teach little. They probably result in whims. But pictures in mail order advertising may form half the cost of selling. And you may be sure that everything about them has been decided by many comparative tests. Before you use useless pictures, merely to decorate or interest, look over some mail order ads. Mark what their verdict is.
A man advertised an incubator to be sold by mail. Type ads with right headlines brought excellent returns. But he conceived the idea that a striking picture would increase those returns. So he increased his space 50 percent to add a row of chickens in silhouette. It did make a striking ad, but his cost per reply was increased by exactly that 50 percent. The new ad, costing one-half more for every insertion, brought not one added sale. The man learned that incubator buyers were practical people. They were looking for attractive offers, not for pictures.
Think of the countless untraced campaigns where a whim of that kind costs half the advertising money without a penny in return. And it may go on year after year. Mail order advertising tells a complete story if the purpose is to make an immediate sale. You see no limitations there are on amount of copy. The motto there is, “The more you tell the more you sell.” And it has never failed to prove out so in any test we know.
Sometimes the advertiser uses small ads, sometimes large ads. None are too small to tell a reasonable story. But an ad twice larger brings twice the returns. A four times larger ad brings four times the returns, and usually some in addition. But this occurs only when the larger space is utilized as well as the small space. Set half-page copy in a page space and you double the cost in returns. We have seen many a test prove that.
Look at an ad of the Mead Cycle Company — a typical mail order ad. These have been running for many years. The ads are unchanging. Mr. Mead told the writer that not for $10,000 would he change a single word in his ads. For many years he compared one ad with the other. And the ads you see today are the final results of all those experiments. Note the picture he uses, the headlines, the economy of space, the small type. Those ads are as near perfect for their purpose as an ad can be.
So with any other mail order ad which has long continued. Every feature, every word and picture teaches advertising at its best. You may not like them. You may say they are unattractive, crowded, hard to read — anything you will. But the test of results has proved those ads the best salesman those lines have yet discovered. And they certainly pay.
Mail order advertising is the court of least resort. You may get the same instruction, if you will, by keying other ads. But mail order ads are models. They are selling goods profitably in a difficult way. It is far harder to get mail order than to send buyers to the stores. It is hard to sell goods which can't be seen. Ads which do that are excellent examples of what advertising should be. We cannot often follow all the principle of mail order advertising, though we know we should.
The advertiser forces a compromise. Perhaps pride in our ads has an influence. But every departure from those principles adds to our selling cost. Therefore it is always a question of what we are willing to pay for our frivolities. We can at least know what we pay. We can make keyed comparisons, one ad with another. Whenever we do we invariably find that the nearer we get to proved mail order copy the more customers we get for our money.
This is another important chapter. Think it over. What real difference is there between inducing a customer to order by mail or order from his dealer? Why should the methods of salesmanship differ? They should not. When they do, it is for one of two reasons. Either the advertiser does not know what the mail order advertiser knows. He is advertising blindly. Or he deliberately sacrifices a percentage of his returns to gratify some desire.
There is some apology for that, just as there is for fine offices and buildings. Most of us can afford to do something for pride and opinion. But let us know what we are doing. Let us know the cost of our pride. Then, if our advertising fails to bring us the wanted returns, let us go back to our model — a good mail order ad — and eliminate some of our waste.
Michel Fortin is a certified digital marketing expert and renowned copywriter who specializes in a unique combination of SEO, CRO, and UX to improve traffic, leads, and revenue for his clients. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless wins, generating in excess of $300 million in sales and results that have broken many industry records. He has worked with thousands of businesses ranging from individual entrepreneurs to enterprise-level multinational companies. He's the author of two top-selling books and often speaks at industry events. To connect with him, visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.