Join thousands of weekly readers and receive practical marketing advice for FREE.
MarketingSherpa's Case Studies, New Research Data, How-tos, Interviews and Articles

Enter your email below to join thousands of marketers and get FREE weekly newsletters with practical Case Studies, research and training, as well as MarketingSherpa updates and promotions.


Please refer to our Privacy Policy and About Us page for contact details.

No thanks, take me to MarketingSherpa

First Name:
Last Name:
Mar 29, 2004
Case Study Tests Rich Media Email to Convert Site Skimmers into Paid Members

SUMMARY: Do people visit your site, sign up for email, but then never convert into paying members? Last year, tested a rich media email campaign to their own non-converter list that got one of the best response rates in their company history.

The trick was in making the registration process so fun and engaging that it felt more like playing a game than treading the path toward purchase commitment.

Definitely check this Case Study out for inspiration -- yes, creative samples are included:

Although has more than 12,000,000 registered members, only about 8% are paying members at any one time.

How can you convince the other 92% of your registrants that they too should convert into buyers?

Brand new registrants are the easiest to convert because they are full of enthusiasm and urgency. But, what about consumers who signed up for email alerts but since then have been sitting on your file for 30 days or longer without converting or even revisiting your site? These are the toughest nuts to crack. calls this group of consumers "skimmers."

Last year the marketing team decided to test an out-of-the-box email campaign to kick start skimmers' enthusiasm and convert more into buyers.

It's sort of like asking someone out on a second date when the first one was a bit of a dud. Could it be done?


Although people become paid members for a fairly serious purpose - finding a life-partner - the act of joining is much more of an impulse buy.

People don't tend to shop around for these subscriptions -- in fact most consumers don't go shopping with a subscription purchase in mind at all. (Almost no one wakes up in the morning and says, "Today I need to buy a dating site subscription.")

Just as with magazine subscriptions, e-sub purchases are made on the spur of the moment, because a direct mail package was entertaining and compelling enough to make a "what the heck" purchase. However, unlike a magazine, an online sub offer has to fight growing consumer dislike of recurring charges and of typing information into online forms.

To lift consumers over that hurdle, the creative team decided to make the act of moving through the subscription process itself such a fun experience that it was well-nigh irresistible.

Instead of a routine fill-in-the-boxes subscription form, they turned subscribing into an online game, starring a cartoon matchmaker named Margo. (Link to creative samples below.)

To get the word out, sent the skimmers list a rich media emailed invitation with the subject line "Someone you really need to meet." When the email was opened, recipients saw a big red button labeled "push" and then Margo zipped up on a Vespa scooter crying out, "Push da button!"

Clickers landed in a subscription microsite where Margo led them through the process of filling out their complete profile, viewing eight possible matches, and hopefully converting to paid membership in order to email one of those matches.

The entire process felt like participating in an interactive game with a host urging you on.

The creative team focused on three keys to make the campaign a success...

-> Key #1. Character development takes time

Margo was in development for nine months. The team developed scripts, had debates on what type of hoop earrings she wore, what type of hair style, etc.

While they wanted a character who'd be highly entertaining and persuasive, they didn't want the character to embody the brand but rather complement the brand attributes -- a small distinction, but an important one.

That's because you don't want the focus of character to take over the brand -- because it could end up becoming another 'brand' and defeat your original goal.

The team eventually came up with a funky, Brooklyn-accented diva, complete with purple hair, offbeat clothes, an attitude, and a past: Margo, "everybody's favorite dating guru," who claimed to have set up Anthony and Cleopatra, among others.

-> Key #2. Use professional voiceover talent

To embody Margo, the team chose voice talent Candy Milo, who had done voices on Nickelodeon and The Simpsons.

She wound up doing hundreds of takes to get the attitude just right. She also wrote some of the script: after a user filled out the personal information and was waiting for personal matches to come back, Milo ad-libbed, "Now for the fun part -- quilting! Kidding!"

-> Key #3. Give the character a purpose

Margo had three goals:

A. To overcome sales objections: Users needed to know that online dating was a reasonable thing to do, and that they wouldn't be matched up with creeps. So, Margo's script put users at ease, giving them the impression that all singles are in the same boat:

"He's single, she's single. You single people are everywhere. Walking your dogs, buying frozen meals for one, playing solitaire. You single people pass each other all the time. Why, the love of your life could be passing right under your nose and you'd never know it."

She then offered a bit of her own "background," to show that she had been doing online dating for years and to "prove" that she had been successful.

B. To continue the registration process: Each of Margo's comments was another step in getting users to fill out personal information. In fact, going through Margo's steps felt more like a game show than data sharing.

The information gathering began with Margo saying: "So, are you ready to give this whole matching thing a whirl? Follow me!"

She went on: "Ah! Do I look fabulous or what? Let's get started. I'll ask the questions and you select the answers in my handy-dandy answer screen. Uh, yeah, that one there. Okay, here we go! Now, this is a tough one. Are you a man or a woman? No peeking. Now, do you dig guys or girls? Now, are you robbing the cradle or are you into older and wiser? In other words, what age range are you into? Almost done here, have patience. What's your zip code?"

B. To encourage viral forwarding: After viewers checked out the photos, Margo said, "Well, my work here is done. So, you love me and you want to send me to all your friends, right? Well just push the little Send Margo button and I'll be a nice surprise in your friend's email box. Until next time, my loves, ta-ta, write, call…"

By clicking on the Send Margo button, users went to a form they could use to send the email to three friends. The top of the form reassured, "Don't worry. We WILL NEVER pass on information you give here. This is just between you and your friends."


The campaign resulted in one of the top three subscription conversion rates has ever achieved in nine years of business. It also won "Best of Show" at the highly competitive AD-TECH awards in November.

The email had an open rate of just over 12%. Of those who opened, 52% completed the entire Margo experience (over four minutes in total length.)

There's still room for improvement though. While a whopping 70% of total opens clicked on the Send Margo to a Friend button, only 2% of total opens actually used the form to forward the email to their friends. Interestingly, this part of the process was the *only* page that looked like a form you had to type a response into, instead of fun buttons to click on.

Lesson learned -- since people dislike filling out online forms, you can convert more paid subscribers by simply making your form more entertaining or interactive.

Useful links related to this article:

Samples of the Send Margo campaign:

Temerlin McClain, the agency that created this campaign for

AD:TECH Awards info
See Also:

Post a Comment

Note: Comments are lightly moderated. We post all comments without editing as long as they
(a) relate to the topic at hand,
(b) do not contain offensive content, and
(c) are not overt sales pitches for your company's own products/services.

To help us prevent spam, please type the numbers
(including dashes) you see in the image below.*

Invalid entry - please re-enter

*Please Note: Your comment will not appear immediately --
article comments are approved by a moderator.

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly Case Study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions

Best of the Week:
Marketing case studies and research

Chart Of The Week

B2B Marketing

Consumer Marketing

Email marketing

Inbound Marketing

SherpaStore Alerts


We value your privacy and will not rent or sell your email address. Visit our About Us page for contact details.