Tuesday, January 26, 2010

direct mail is alive and well and going to college

Direct mail marketing may be in decline in most places, but it's thriving in a sector that has only recently accepted it: academia.

According to the front page of today's NY Times, some colleges spent over $1 million last year to market themselves to prospective students. The University of the Pacific in Stockton, California sent out bright orange packets hawking : "Waived application fee!", "No required essay!" Inside, a letter congratulated the recipient for having "earned an opportunity that is reserved for only a select few high-priority students."

The truth is, there is no application fee for anyone applying, and thus no fee to waive. And the "select few" students who received the packets were a list of 30,000 names compiled by Royal & Company, a Richmond-based marketing company that employs veterans from direct mail campaigns for long-distance phone providers and banks.

Why are providers of higher education resorting to marketing themselves like a credit card or dog food?

One answer is, schools need help landing applicants in a recession and are looking to broaden the pool of candidates who apply.

But surely the decision has something to do the fact that marketing campaigns tend to boost schools' rankings in US News and World Report, generally considered the blue book for college shoppers. The rankings depend, in part, on how exclusive a school is, based on acceptance rate. Naturally, the more applicants a school receives, the more it rejects. And that means higher desirability, at least for those who value exclusivity. And, what proud parent seeking the best for a child doesn't?

Which brings me around, once again, to the overpromise metrics.


Ann Handley said...

You are so right about volume: In my sample size of one (my kid is a high school senior), never has our mailbox been so active as it has these past 6 months. I've been a little perplexed by it, actually, because the direct mail has come from places he wouldn't dream of attending, for various reasons. But boy.. does he feel *wanted*!

The explanation of juicing the exclusivity #s makes sense.

(BTW, colleges love telemarketing, too.)

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

Ha! Forgot about those telemarketers, Ann. I'd finally manage a dinner with high schoolers en famille and calls would start in...these days the calls are probably from somewhere in India where center employees are made to actually read those direct mail brochures...

Loved your take on the subject of kids exiting the nest. Other readers can check it out at http://www.annhandley.com/2009/11/22/parent-bingo/ Good luck to your hs senior...and his mom :)

Howie said...

Direct Mail does one thing most other forms of Media can not. It gets seen if not always read. Even if you sort through your mail and toss envelopes unopened 98% of the time you know who is trying to reach you. The only draw back is the expense. But if you spend on cheap CPM's and never get seen, then you waste your money.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

Good point, Howie, and good reason, if you're designing dm to make sender identity obvious on outer envelope. I've noticed some companies have stopped identifying on envelope, perhaps thinking to dupe receiver into opening what they think is a piece of personal mail. Um. Not. A chance.