Conveying the Starkness of ‘Forever’

When it comes to direct mail, there’s nothing like a black outer envelope with reverse colored type to convey a harsh reality. Add a killer teaser like “Extinction is Forever” and you’ve got a TKO.

This heavyweight is the current control for the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Ariz.-based organization that works through science, law and creative media to secure a future for species hovering on the brink of extinction, which most recently mailed in May.

“The extinction message is so stark and final that we believed a black carrier would drive home the importance while also standing out in the mailbox,” says Keri Dixon, membership director for the Center for Biological Diversity. A larger, 6″ x 9″ carrier-size envelope also was used to increase visibility, though Dixon adds that the organization is preparing to test a smaller carrier with the same format (Archive code # 610-640861-0907).

The mailing was first tested in February 2008, but it was the retests in January and March 2009 that firmly established it as the new control package. It’s sent both to the center’s core continuation lists for acquisition and to its activists, lapsed donors and lower-dollar members. Dixon says the teaser copy was not initially tested, but the message was a very clear choice when developing the lede—”Just how bad is the extinction crisis?”—and theme in the four-page letter printed on two 8-1/2″ x 11-1/2″ sheets of paper.

“It was dramatic, yet not overstated,” Dixon says. “And it was direct about the issue without giving away the contents of the package.”

For this mailing’s outer, the desperate, three-word teaser is tempered by additional text to the right of the address window that sheds some hope on the situation: “There’s still time to help save: the polar bear, jaguar, emperor penguin … Sign the enclosed petitions today.” The organization just tested only using the three-word teaser without the additional text and has plans to retest due to improved results.

The mailing features two key calls to action: give a membership donation of $15 or more and sign the two petitions, one for President Obama and the other for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, asking them to make endangered species protection a top priority. The petition approach has been a proven involvement technique and bonds future members to the organization.

“Additionally,” adds Dixon, “each mailing generates a number of activists who do not give an initial gift but become warm prospects and return successfully when they are mailed future acquisition packages. But more importantly, we deliver the petitions to decision makers to share the important messages from our new supporters.”

The letter’s goal was to portray what sets the center apart from other organizations, using a broad message meant to bond new members to the center’s core mission as opposed to one specific issue or species. It’s packed with information about the organization and its mission, and laced with a passion that makes the four pages of copy a fast-paced read. That’s not surprising given that the letter was written by Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, and his wife, who is a writer by profession.

The strongest copy is bolded, underlined or centered to set it apart from the main text, and lays out the dire situation of the many animals on the brink of extinction; the need for continued efforts to save these animals; the importance of signing the enclosed petitions; the implications species extinction has on humans; the center’s history of advocacy and what sets its mission apart from other environmental groups; the devastating effects of the Bush administration on protected species; and what programs donations to the center will support.