Multiple mailings can damage credibility

The following column looks at new and emerging trends in direct response marketing....

The following column looks at new and emerging trends in direct response marketing.

What do The Economist, and Citibank’s Diners Club/enRoute card have in common? Read on.

The Economist, first published in 1843, has a long history of objective reporting, insightful analysis and a global perspective. Despite its ‘old economy’ look, the magazine writes on the ‘new economy’ without hyperbole, which cannot be said for some of the ‘new economy’ publications. It is the only magazine I know that was virtually endorsed by a U.S. President – several years ago, its media kit included a colour photocopy showing then-President George Bush clutching a copy of the magazine as he purposefully strode to a waiting helicopter. While I do not profess to have the intellect that The Economist aspires to, I have been an on-and-off subscriber for some time.

So, how can a magazine this smart act so dumb? Recently, within a two-day period, I received three items from The Economist – my subscription copy, a renewal solicitation and an acquisition mailing. Then, on Sept. 21, a gift subscription offer arrives, with the notation that I can ‘renew [my] own subscription at the $135.00 rate.’ The next day, a ’4 FREE ISSUES’ acquisition mailing provides a ‘trial subscription’ of, in effect, 26 issues for $59.90. Since The Economist publishes 51 issues per year, the standard renewal is $2.65 per copy, while the new subscriber rate is $2.30. Why pay the higher price of renewing, when you can simply become a ‘new’ customer? Beats me!

But, here’s the main point: My subscription label and the other pieces sent to me contain identical delivery information. By not properly merging and purging its subscriber-promotion and acquisition lists, The Economist wastes money on printing and postage. Worse, it may damage its credibility with its customers, and, potentially, this is a much higher price to pay.

An isolated incident, you say? Here’s another example.

On May 31, 2000, I accepted the ’12,000 Bonus Miles’ offer from Diners Club/enRoute, and subsequently received and activated my card. Considering this, why would I receive the same offer on Sept. 23, 2000?

There are three possible answers: (1) No merge/purge; (2) Poor merge/purge, since my card information is slightly different than the delivery information on the acquisition piece; (3) Great customer service.

By re-mailing the offer to which I had already responded, Diners Club/enRoute was reminding me to make sure that all the bonus Aeroplan miles due to me under the terms of its offer have been credited to me. (It appears that my activation bonus points are missing.)

But it begs the question: If a card issuer cannot get its own reward points offer right, can it get one’s account charges right? Like The Economist above, it has to do with credibility.

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More on Fit: Thanks to Jo-Anne Wiseman-Chow of Impiric for her feedback on my previous column on Fit fruit and vegetable wash. She writes: ‘…there were two things that stood out to me. Firstly, I opened it and took notice. I read it thoroughly and at the end was convinced that I should run out and spend more money on a seemingly important necessity…Secondly (most important), there was no response device, no coupon, no Web site, no offer and no phone number to address potential health concerns. How are they going to track response? I guess they blew the budget on sending two samples instead of one.’

(I had called P&G to ask why the piece did not include a coupon, but the media affairs person was on holiday and I was unable to convince the switchboard to let me speak with anyone on the product management team. That said, I should have noted that the piece lacked a response device in the original column. Mea culpa.)

Update: In less than one week, Amex Bank of Canada will launch its ‘new’ American Express Membership Rewards program and its alliance with Canada 3000 Airlines. One would think that, by now, current cardholders would have received something in the mail detailing the program and all its benefits. After all, Amex faces a huge potential loss in income as cardholders, disgruntled by the termination of the Canadian Plus airline points deal, flee to other cards. Maybe they just don’t care!

David Foley is a marketing consultant and an instructor in database marketing at York University in Toronto. He may be reached at (416) 253-1224; by fax at (416) 253-4637 or via e-mail at