Pennies in Direct Mail
Every once in a while I hear about a marketing promotion gone horribly wrong. When I first heard about a 1956 Reader’s Digest campaign that involved pennies, I thought it was another marketer’s tale of woe.
The late Walter H. Weintz, a direct mail pioneer and the circulation director at Reader’s Digest in the 50s, mailed 100 million pennies as part of a subscription campaign. The pennies were mailed with a letter encouraging recipients to mail back one penny as a down payment on a subscription, according to the New York Times article linked above.
Here’s what happened, according to this random fact book:
“The magazine planned to send out 50 million letters, which meant they needed 100 million coins–enough to deplete the entire New York area of pennies. The U.S. Mint intervened, forcing Reader’s Digest to make quick arrangements to ship in 60 million more pennies from all over the country. Then, when the company finally got all the pennies it needed, it stored them all in one room–and the floor collapsed under the weight.”
Sounds like a total disaster right? Not exactly. The promotion drew a record number of responses.
“That mailing, along with other direct marketing campaigns that Mr. Weintz conceived, was credited in large part for raising the magazine’s circulation” from about 4.5 million in 1948 to over 12 million in 1959, according to the New York Times.
Weintz took a big risk on that campaign, and it paid off big time. It goes to show that marketing far out on a limb can yield the best fruit–but only if the branch doesn’t break under your feet.