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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 at success. And he learns how every wasted dollar
adds to the cost of results.
Here he is taught efficiency and economy under a master who can’t be
fooled. Then, and then only, 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 that 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 have continued 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
that it 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 yet discovered for
Study those ads with respect. There is proved 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 are paying a double price for sales.
In mail order advertising there is no waste of 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 get
some action from the converts partly made. It 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 up 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 the 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
from 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 per cent to add a row of chickens in silhouette.
It did make a striking ad, but his cost per reply was increased by
exactly 50 per cent. 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 of 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 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
of 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
For many years he compared one ad with another. And the ads you see
today are the final result 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 salesmen
those lines have yet discovered. And they certainly pay.
Mail order advertising is the court of last 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 orders 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 principles 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 is deliberately sacrificing 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 the wanted returns, let us go
back to our model–a good mail order ad–and eliminate some of our