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National Mail Order Association (NMOA)
Direct Marketing
and Mail Order

Alan Rosenspan's
Improve Your Response Newsletter

Issue # 46: 2006 Holiday Issue


1. Offer Revival

2. Best Classified Ad Ever

3. You Gotta Be Sincere

4. True One-to-One Marketing

5. Creativity Test

6. Desiderata



Dear Friends,

I wish you a wonderful holiday season — however you choose to celebrate it, Christmas, Chanukah, Ramadan, Kwanza or even Festivus.

I'll be traveling on business for most of the next three weeks, so I wanted to get this to you before I left.

Thank you for your comments on our last newsletter. They are greatly appreciated and often useful. One reader wrote,

"A thought — if 49 characters is the "optimum" subject header — here's one for you that's 50:  "Improve Your Response Newsletter by Alan Rosenspan".  Should up your response/opt in immeasurably!"

So that's why we have a new subject line!


All the best,



Offer Revival

Inside Direct Mail asked me to write an article about breathing new life into offers. And I thought you might be interested in the information. Here's the article:

Let me make a confession: I'm not a great copywriter. But I have generated great results on a lot of my direct mail packages. I think it's because I always spend more time and energy on the offer.

And that's exactly what I'm going to share with you today. Chances are, if you're doing direct marketing, you already have a good offer. But it may not be working as well as it used to, or you may simply

want to try something new. I'm all for that — but before you toss aside a flagging offer, you may want to consider some proven ways to revive it. Here are seven suggestions — and two essential

questions to ask of all offers.


Let's take them one by one:


1. The Golden Oldies Approach

Some years ago, I did a project for The MathWorks. It was an offer test designed to beat their control, which simply offered "more information."

I went back over their materials and discovered that The MathWorks computer scientists had generated over 100 white papers and reports, and all of them were available as possible offers.

But which one or ones should we choose?

My first instinct was to let the prospect choose. So in one package, we allowed people to choose any 5 papers from the list of 100. But that takes hard work, and most people just don't have the time. So in the second offer we tested, we made the choice for them. I asked my client which were the most popular white papers and reports, and then came up with the following offer:

"Free! The 5 Most Requested Reports and Articles from the MathWorks."

This offer out pulled the control seven times over. I think it worked for three reasons:

(1) People always want what other people have — particularly in very competitive industries like high technology

(2) These were proven offers — after all, they were the most popular ones

(3) We made it very easy for them.

So if you have an offer that's worked well before — it might work well again. And by the way, this technique has also worked for several of my travel clients. The moment we flag a tour with something like, "Our Most Popular Tour to Italy," response goes up and so do sales of that particular tour. Envy may be one the Seven Deadly Sins — people always seem to want what other people have. You can use that in direct marketing.


2. New and Improved

Take a successful offer and do what the detergents do — make it new and improved.  My company has been offering our booklet, 101 Ways to Improve Response for several years. But the information you receive now is different from what you may have read before. We refresh it with every printing. This turns an ordinary white paper into a living document, always relevant and always up-to-date. Non-fiction books use this technique frequently. My favorite example is when Bob Stone updated his classic Successful Direct Marketing Methods. The ad for the updated book read, "Bob Stone Just Re-wrote the Bible."

Your offers shouldn't be set in stone — you can always update them with new information. Just make sure you tell people it's new and improved.


3. Now with e-Mail!

Another way to improve an informational offer is to add a new, relevant section. Again my 101 Ways to Improve Response was written for direct mail. But two or three printings ago, we began to get a lot of questions about e-mail. We simply added a section.

So have a look at your existing offer and ask, "What's not included?" "What could we add?"


4. Think negative thoughts

Research shows people have a greater fear of loss than a desire for gain. That makes sense — you don't want to lose what you already have, do you? One way to revive an offer might be to take all the positive information you have, and take the opposite approach. For example, Fisher Investments used to offer information on how to succeed in the stock market. That worked well — but now they offer "8 Mistakes to Avoid" which seems to be pulling much better.

Think of what's the worst that could happen if people don't buy or use your product or service. Then turn it into an informational offer.


5. Add a channel

Take the best offer that's worked in direct mail and test it in e-mail. Then do the reverse. You can also make it possible for people to receive the offer in the channel that they prefer. For example, if you are offering a white paper or report, you can also make it available as a PDF for those people who have an immediate need or interest. You'll also be taking advantage of the power of instant gratification. But you should also offer it as a printed white paper, that people can refer to at a later date, or share with their colleagues and associates.

Which is better?

It's a trick question — you should always do both. You'll not only get more people to respond, you'll connect with them on two separate occasions. By the way, e-mail is a terrific channel to test different offers. The benefits are you can test a number of ideas at very little cost. Plus you get immediate results — you don't have to wait for the direct mail responses to trickle in. Then you can take the winning offer and put it in your next direct mail program. You won't get the same results, but you will probably get similar results. We've done this for several clients, including American Express, Humana and The Education Center.


6. Turn the offer into a kit

Kits almost always outpull offers of "more information" or even "Free Brochure."

The reason is that a kit sounds heftier — it feels like you get more than just a brochure.

You can add almost anything to a kit: a free product sample, a letter from a customer, a price sheet, and a brochure. You can even add customized materials, depending on who responds.

And if you really want to increase response — then name your kit after your main benefit. For Putnam Tax-Free Funds, we offered a "Cut Your Taxes" Kit.


7. Sell your existing offer more strongly.

Sometimes you have a good offer — you're just not calling attention to it, or describing its value.

When we started working for Scott's LawnService, they already had an offer — a Free Lawn Analysis. But it was almost buried in the package (under the lawn, of course — just kidding)

We made it the hero of our new package, and described it in more detail than they ever had before. I wrote that it "checks for 36 different kinds of weeds."

The client asked, "How did you come up with that number?

"I said, "I counted all the weeds on the form."

Our Free lawn Analysis package won a Gold ECHO in 2004, followed by a Bronze ECHO in 2006.

Was it beautifully written? Um...not really. But it clearly sold the offer and the value of it. It's a combination that will beat good or even great creative 99 out of 100 times.

How did I come up with that number? I counted.


The Two Essential Questions

No matter what you are offering — and no matter in which channel — there are two questions you always want to ask.

The first question — is this an offer that money can't buy?

If I can get your offer any other way, for example at a bookstore or a novelty store, it probably isn't the strongest offer you can come up with.

On the other hand, if the only place I can get your offer is from you — it's probably going to be more effective.

That's why white papers are so effective — they contain information that's either proprietary, or difficult for prospects to find on their own.

The second question is — will this offer accelerate the sale?

In the Scott's LawnService example, anyone who agrees to a Free Lawn Analysis is that much closer to becoming a customer.

In our direct mail for Systems Paving, our offer is to show how your house will look with our beautiful new paving stones. Again, this makes the homeowner much more likely to become a customer.

So instead of offering iPods (like everyone seems to be doing these days) try to offer something relevant to your product; valuable to the prospect; something they can't get anywhere else; and something that leads them to become a customer.

It's the best way to improve the response of your next direct marketing program.

I told you I wasn't a great copywriter — by the end of this article, I'm afraid I may have convinced you. But I do have an offer. If you'd like a copy of 101 ways to Improve Response — the new and improved version, now with e-mail!  — just drop me an e-mail at


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Best Classified Ad Ever

Classified or small space ads are a great test of your creativity.

You only have a few brief words to (A) capture people's attention in an entire page of similar ads, and (B) persuade them to act.

In a previous issue (long, long ago) I shared a classified ad that I wrote for my agency — the only one that ever won an ECHO Award for results.

The ad was for a proofreader, and the headline read:

Proof Reader Wanted

for Rapidly Growling

Direct Marketing Agency.

I asked people to correct the ad (which had 21 other mistakes besides the headline) and send it in with their resume. We received hundreds of responses.

Anyway, until now I thought I was pretty clever. But I recently gave a seminar for a company called HCPro, and a woman shared a classified ad that her mother had run way back in 1973.

It was a two-part ad. The top part read as follows:


MORRIS, my yellow, double-pawed cat is making our son sneeze and wheeze. She is sweet, very patient and even eats spaghetti. $1000. or free to good home. Call XXX-XXX-XXXX OR read next ad.

And the bottom part read:


TED, our 14-year old son for sale. Allergic to our cat Morris. He is tall, quite patient (except with sisters) and eats almost anything. $1,000. or free to good home. Call XXX-XXX-XXXX OR read previous ad.

The ads generated dozens of responses, and were also picked up by Associated Press and the story aired on virtually every major news channel.

In fact, it created so much of a stir that they had to run a new classified ad the following week. If you'd like to see a copy of it, please e-mail me at

Or you can simply wait for the next newsletter.

And by the way — they did find a good home for Morris.

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"You Gotta Be Sincere"

These were lyrics to a popular song in the movie Bye Bye Birdie.

But a recent study by Ogilvy & Mather in five different countries revealed the truth in those words. They found that the single most important way to increase direct marketing sales was to...

...convince prospects that they can trust you.

How can you do that? I have three suggestions:


1. Avoid exaggeration

Understating your benefits is much more effective than overstating them. Try to avoid Amazing! Revolutionary!! Save thousands of dollars!!!

The minute even one of your sentences sounds like it might not be true — then it causes the reader to doubt every other sentence in your package.


2. Talk like people talk

Even the most intelligent politicians know — you gotta talk the way people talk. You gotta write that way too.

I don't mean you should talk down to people — I just mean that you need to use simple words and short sentences.

I recently received a direct mail package from The Folio Society in the UK. (I think they sell books)

I understand they are marketing to a highly literate group of people, but in their brochure, there's a sentence that reads, "Lord Norwich has appeared as a silver-tongued Virgil to guide us."

Um...I‘m going to need a little more guidance than that.


And in their letter, they say "please let me allay your fears…" I admit to having a number of fears — but receiving books in leather (sorry, bonded leather) isn't one of them.


3. Admit your shortcomings

Your product isn't perfect — and it probably isn't for everybody. The more honest you are about that, the more believable you will make your direct marketing.

It's like beating your reader to the punch — before they begin to question your product, you can do it for them. And then answer that objection in the best possible (but honest) way.


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True One-to-One Marketing

One of the best examples of true one-to-one marketing I've come across is from Jay Pontiac in Bedford, Ohio.

They send out thousands of different self-mailers every month, each one customized with the following customer information: 

  • The customer name. The cover of the self-mailer reads "<Sample A. Sample>, Here's Important Information About Your <Model of Car>
  • The customer's recent service activity. What's been done and when, and what needs to be done.
  • A customized chart on the customer's Tire Treadware, so they know when it's time to buy new tires. And a chart on Brake Pad Thickness, for the same reason.
  • Three personalized offers — plus one that was a "Happy Birthday" offer (since the mailing was close to the customer's birth date)

This campaign was so successful, it was entered into the DMA's ECHO Awards. If you're not looking at techniques like these — and trying to use them in your business — you might be falling behind.


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Creativity Test

We haven't had one of these for a while — and I thought you might have fun with this one.

So here's the assignment:

Write a headline for an ad selling the Bible.

It can be spiritual, it can be emotional, it can be fun. It's up to you. But the best headlines will be published in the next newsletter, and the winning headline will receive a free copy of my book, Confessions of a Control Freak.

And by the way, did you know the book is now available in Italian as well as Russian?


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You may have seen this poster when you were in college — although it's been around for a much longer time than that. It was und in St. Paul's Church in Baltimore dated 1692.

Why am I passing it along? I love the sentiments, and it seems to fit in with the holiday season.


"Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant, for they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, for they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter, for always, there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble: it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.  But let not this blind you to what virtue there is.  Many persons strive for high ideals and everywhere, life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.

Especially, do not feign affection.

Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of aridity and disenchantment, it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.  But do not distress yourself with imaginings.  Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are the child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars.  You have the right to be here.  And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore, be at peace with god, whatever you conceive him to be.  And whatever your labors and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be careful.

Strive to be happy."


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Opt out, Opt in, Opportunity

1. Please feel free to forward this newsletter on to a friend or business associate. I'd appreciate it.

2. You can access all our back-issues on our website at

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Thank you, Alan

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