Trust me, this is a great story.
Most of us in this industry are complaint averse. We don’t ever want to upset a donor or a prospect. But if you’re not getting some complaints, you’re not doing your job. Read on to find out what I mean.
Back in the ‘60s, Ogilvy and Mather were hired by Lear Jet to create a direct mail campaign for their million dollar jets (If you haven’t heard of Ogilvy you need to do some studying).
Apparently the marketing firm decided to get creative (the are an ad and marketing agency, not?), and direct mail turned into air mail: They developed a campaign involving 800 homing pigeons (The ones that can fly long distances and always find their home roost).
The pigeons were delivered, in cages, by messenger to corporate executives. Each pigeon had a small tube attached to a leg. Inside the tube was a form to be filled out requesting more information on the jets. (I guess there are “pigeon specialists” who do this kind of stuff.)
Of those 800, about 200 forms were filled out (not a bad return, heh? … when was the last time your annual giving campaign had that return?) and the pigeons released into the air. I guess that’s analogous to you dropping your planned giving newsletters into the mailbox.
But the campaign had some … err … challenges.
Just like the issues we face in our own direct mail, they had some issues too. Read on …
Many of the offices in New York City did not have windows that opened thus lowering response rates. Some secretaries were asked to release the pigeons on street level. (Think — what’s lowering your response rates that you had not thought of?)
Some of the pigeons got loose in the office, flapping all over the place, pooping, shuffling office paper, and generally causing havoc. In one case, a pigeon got stuck in a women’s hair. In another, a pigeon decided to make the copier room home — attacking anyone who entered.
Some 60 calls were made to the police department and 35 calls to the fire department. Talk about complaints! (And you’re worried about typos in your planned giving newsletter? If you can’t stomach complaints, don’t mail anything.)
The entire campaign cost around $15,000. Hearsay says NYC tried to fine them but there were no laws against delivering pigeons to offices.
It was, by most accounts, a complete mess. But perhaps it was worth the hassle if we look closer: Lear sold 4 jets. I assume that $4 million is a very high ROI on $15,000.
The bottom line, according to Tom Ahern: if you send out 10,000 planned giving newsletters and you do not receive at least 100 complaints, you’re not being heard.
Be like Lear Jet. Be heard — even if it does result in complaints about pigeon poop.
PS: Taking inflation into account, $4 million in 1968 is worth about $29,373,333.33 today, and an average Lear is about $22 million.