The power of artificially ugly fundraising

Unclemaynardttdmk

There’s nothing really noteworthy in this mailing from Uncle Maynard’s local Red Cross chapter, except one thing…

See those little semi-circles marching down the right and left margins?

If you’re above a certain age, you’ll recognize them in an instant: They’re pin-feed perforations. Or rather, they’re printed facsimiles or pin-feed perfs.

Redcrosspinfeedspage

Now why would anyone bother to add fake holes to their mailing?

I can only guess, but here’s a plausible explanation: The mailing is a long-time control that originated back in those dim, prehistoric times when pin-fed forms were the cheap way to produce this type of mailing. When you could afford it, you trimmed off the margins and nobody saw your perfs. But if you were really going for cheap, you left them there. And hoped the cheapness of it did no harm.

Redcrosspinfeedscloseup

Eventually (in my hypothetical scenario) the people who produced this package come out with some great news: We no longer produce these packages with a pin-fed process. You can get the nice, clean, hole-free paper without the added cost of trimming!

Then the weirdest thing happened: The no-holes version didn’t work as well. And if that weren’t bad enough, it would now cost more to have the holes. They had to be artificially added to the process.

If they were smart, some testing was done at this point, so they could measure the cost and efficacy of the holes. Someone came up with the entirely strange idea of printed fake holes.

And the fake holes did the trick.

Direct response is that way sometimes. Clunky and ugly so often works better than modern and nice. Even artificial clunky and ugly. No, it doesn’t make sense. And that’s why logic is a weak guide for fundraising.

(If anyone reading this has the inside scoop on this package, I’d love to hear from you!)

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Comments

4 responses to “The power of artificially ugly fundraising”

  1. Adrian Salmon Avatar
    Adrian Salmon

    As the great Harold Sumption said when he pioneered Oxfam’s press advertising in the 1950s – “(the ads) need to look as if they were put together by two old ladies in an attic, using scissors and glue”.

  2. Adrian Salmon Avatar
    Adrian Salmon

    As the great Harold Sumption said when he pioneered Oxfam’s press advertising in the 1950s – “(the ads) need to look as if they were put together by two old ladies in an attic, using scissors and glue”.

  3. John W Avatar

    Hi there, thank you so much for this great post! As a member of the team responsible for this piece I have to say we absolutely agree with your comments! This is a long-standing “invoice” package that has existed as an acquisition control since before anyone can really remember. Your assumption about cost is true in that this is one of the cheapest packages we mail despite the fact we print the “fake holes.” You are also correct in that we have tested with and without the holes, and this current package still performs above others. We are continuing to test offers, copy, and package formats to increase donor responses. As you stated, sometimes “it doesn’t make sense” and that’s why we keep trying new things. Thanks again! –ARC direct response team

  4. John W Avatar

    Hi there, thank you so much for this great post! As a member of the team responsible for this piece I have to say we absolutely agree with your comments! This is a long-standing “invoice” package that has existed as an acquisition control since before anyone can really remember. Your assumption about cost is true in that this is one of the cheapest packages we mail despite the fact we print the “fake holes.” You are also correct in that we have tested with and without the holes, and this current package still performs above others. We are continuing to test offers, copy, and package formats to increase donor responses. As you stated, sometimes “it doesn’t make sense” and that’s why we keep trying new things. Thanks again! –ARC direct response team

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.