Marketing Tips

Scientific Advertising – Chapter 4: Mail Order Advertising – What It Teaches

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. The 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 the returns.

Figures which do not lie tell at once the merits of an ad.

This puts men on their mettle. All guesswork is eliminated. Every mistake is conspicuous. One quickly loses this 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 he is taught 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 $5 article. The replies from his ad cost him 85 cents. Another man submitted an ad that he thought was better. The replies cost him $14.20 each. Another man submitted an ad that for two years brought replies at an average of 41 cents each.

Consider the difference, in 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 thousands of advertisers 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 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 that 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. The 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 jargon. 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 through tests, and he does not propose to accept it.

So he inserts a reminder to be cut out, and it is used when the reader is ready to act.

In mail-order advertising, 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 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 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 the right headlines brought excellent returns. But he conceived the idea that a striking picture would increase those returns. So he increased his space by 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 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 on the amount of copy. The motto there is, “The more you tell the more you sell.” And it has never failed to prove out 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 a 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, and 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 and 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 results have proved those ads the best salesman 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 that can’t be seen. Ads that 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, and one ad with another. Whenever we do we invariably find that the nearer we get to proven 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 ordering 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 us the wanted returns, let us go back to our model – a good mail-order ad – and eliminate some of our waste.

Written in 1923, Scientific Advertising is published here as 21 blog posts – one for each chapter.

You can download the entire book as a PDF here.


Bob Jones

B2B marketer, entrepreneur, and engineer

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.