In Gulliver’s Travels, our intrepid explorer finds himself in Lilliput, where two factions of Lilliputians are in dispute. On one side are the Big-Endians, who break their boiled eggs at the big end, while on the other side are the Little-Endians, who break their eggs at the little end.
This is kind of like that. There’s a group of people in direct mail and fundraising who maintain that the best carrier, bar none, is the humble plain envelope. After all, they insist, getting the carrier open is half the battle, and who can resist the siren song of the plain envelope? Don’t prospects just have to know what’s inside?
And then there’s another group of people who maintain that teaser copy and images on the outside envelope are the way to entice donors and lure them in.
So who’s right? Luckily, we have some help, by way of a post on SOFII, from the esteemed Professor Siegfried Vogele, dean of direct mail and one of the field’s most original thinkers.
The good doctor explains envelope effectiveness in terms of filters and amplifiers. A filter impedes response, and an amplifier, well, amplifies it.
He further explains that the plain envelope is what we normally associate with personal correspondence (rare these days, thanks to email) or with business mail, like a letter from your insurance company. When you get that letter, open it, and find your expectations confirmed – yes, it IS a letter from Aunt Margie! – then that’s an amplifier for the recipient. In this case, the envelope has done its job by successfully setting the stage.
But if that plain envelope happens to contain an advertising circular, a sales letter, or a Dear-Friend fundraising appeal that you weren’t anticipating, then that can be a filter, depressing response – probably because, in this case, the envelope did not set the stage for the prospect. You got something completely different from what you’re conditioned to expect from a plain envelope.
So does this mean we should never use a plain envelope? Or that we should ways use teaser copy and images? As with all things direct mail, it depends.
If the contents are highly personal and highly targeted to the recipient, then a plain envelope could be the right way to go. That will set the stage for the recipient about what’s to come, and your donor will likely move smoothly from the outside envelope to the appeal inside to have their expectations confirmed.
But, if the contents are obviously a more mass-market kind of fundraising appeal, then it might be good to think about how to set the stage with teaser copy and images. No easy task. That could mean everything from a simple “R.S.V.P” on the outer envelope to an expression about the cause to the beginning of a story. There’s an infinite number of ways to do this, so picking the so-called right one is going to depend a lot on your list and your offer. Not to mention your ability to read your donors’ minds.
So, there we have it: the Big-Endians versus the Little-Endians. Which side is right? Well, both are, of course.