According to online media directors from a half-dozen leading
agencies we interviewed recently, newsletter ads are the buy-du-
Why? Well, as we've reported, email still works astonishingly
well as a tactic, but roughly 95% of the rental lists on the
market are cruddy, semi-permissioned (if that), non-performers
that might get your brand labeled as a spammer.
So, if you want to take advantage of email beyond your house
list, placing ads in newsletters are where it’s at.
Your ad in a wanted, expected, and hopefully beloved newsletter
should perform pretty well. A compelling offer can pull a
moderately high 1% click rate (conversions are mostly up to your
landing page.) Plus, your brand may be enhanced through the
implied endorsement of the newsletter's publisher.
But, to get those clicks, you have to avoid the five big
Mistake #1: Media Buying Without Enough Research
Mistake #2: Inadequate Frequency
Mistake #3: Bad Design
Mistake #4: Horrible Copy
Mistake #5: Links that Strand People
-> Mistake #1: Media Buying Without Enough Research
Most agency media buying departments are incredibly busy and
under compensated so they don't have time for intensive research.
Plus, it's a lot harder to get useful data about newsletters than
it is for other online ads. And, agencies are not always privy
to the client-side metrics data on clicks and/or conversions.
So they may take the easy road. Slam out an RFP to a bunch of
newsletters that sound like they might be on target, and then ok
the ones with the lowest CPM and/or the most famous name brand.
Then everyone wonders why the campaign underperformed.
As a marketer, it's your responsibility to personally review a
recent sample issue of every proposed buy; to provide your agency
conversion metrics for tests; and to ask the following questions:
o Can I see the subscription form that people joined using?
o Is a high percent of this list from co-registration or
sweeps (which might be lower performing)?
o What's the average issue open rate? Does it vary widely
given day of week or subject line?
o What time of day and day of week are issues sent? If it's a
unusually large list, how is delivery time affected?
o What percent of names on the list are to junkier boxes -
Hotmail, Yahoo, etc. - that consumers often use as hardly-
read "back-ups" rather than primary accounts?
o What percent of names on the list are going to corporate
addresses and smaller ISPs so the messages are probably much
more heavily filtered on content? (It's far easier to get a
newsletter through to AOL users than it is to get to many
corporate mail boxes these days.)
o What steps is the publisher taking to avoid filters?
o What offers work best in this newsletter in the past?
o Are segments available, such as newer readers who may
respond better (very useful for b-to-c) or title selects?
o Can you also put an offer in the publisher's new reader
welcome letter? (A high-performing add-on worth pursuing.)
o Who does that publisher view as their biggest competitors?
o Which sponsors have run multiple campaigns, indicating it's
working for them?
-> Mistake #2: Inadequate Frequency
Running a single ad once in a newsletter is just as big a mistake
as running one print ad per magazine per year. Frequency always
wins the game.
Unlike list rentals where you'll annoy names if you blast the
same offer frequently and repeatedly, you can easily run the same
newsletter creative for the Best practices seven-to-10 times in a
row and continue to get pretty good results.
Partly that's because not every reader opens every issue. Also,
it's due to the classic rules of frequency and response. (Link
to rules below.)
If the newsletter is a daily, be sure to test how many days in a
row you can run creative without harming results. You may need
to give a newsletter a few days "rest" and start all over again.
(Yes, we've met direct response marketers who've run long-term
campaigns over the course of months or even years this way.)
-> Mistake #3: Bad Design
Just because the newsletter's specs match common banner sizes,
that doesn't mean you should ask them to run your banner
In fact, that's often the worst thing you can do.
Web surfers eyes have been trained to ignore standard banners.
For newsletters, test the creative designs that are working
elsewhere today -- such as text-links, text-ads, and tiles.
Plus, if you run a text-ad in a rectangular or square space,
don't feel compelled to stick a border around it. Borders often
can and will depress response.
Don't test rich media unless the publisher can assure you beyond
a shadow of a doubt that it's deliverable to his/her list, and
they've got happy rich media sponsors who are willing to go on
record to prove it.
Plus, if you do give graphic creative (instead of text-only) be
sure to hand over an accompanying text-ad as well. Most
publishers will *not* ask for this, but it's very important.
Remember, any recipient who's viewing text-only versions of the
newsletter (includes forwarded copies from AOL and Hotmail, Lotus
Notes users, and many AOL 9.0 and Outlook 2003 users) won't see
your lovely graphic. They'll see whatever the publisher inserted
as the text-version.
Do you really want a publisher's production department deciding
what your text-version ad will read and lay-out as? No.
-> Mistake #4: Horrible Copy
Unless you're running a branding-only campaign, text is king.
Avoid these very, very (very) common mistakes:
o Packing several ideas into a single ad -- such as a company
branding message as well as a specific offer. Pick one. You
only have a few words and a microsecond of reader attention.
Don't make your message compete with itself.
o Block of text -- the publisher told you that you had a
certain number of words or lines to fill. So you wrote and wrote
until you filled the space entirely up. Guess what? Readers'
eyes skip over block-of-text even faster than they leap past
White space is not a "waste"; white space is your response-
o No deadline -- if you are counting on responses, give a
deadline or use some type of urgency in your copy. (Today,
Now, Thursday, Within 24 hours…) If your deadline is more
than a couple of days away, expect lowered response. People
are too busy, they'll put off responding "until later" by
which time they forgot your ad.
o Hello filters -- you know all those words you're not
supposed to put in your own email blasts because filters
will stop you? Guess what, they'll stop the newsletter your
ad sits in too. Ask the publisher to give you a list of do-
o Us, we, our -- does your ad contain (or at least heavily
imply) the word "you"? This is copywriting 101 and is most
frequently ignored in B-to-B ads for lesser-known companies
who want to talk all about themselves, and, oh yeah, get
clicks too (see above, "Packing several ideas into a single
-> Mistake #5: Links that Strand People
If you're running in an HTML newsletter, include a spelled out
version of your hotlink, not just a clickable bit of copy or
That's because if the recipient is reading in Hotmail or Yahoo
the links may cease working, so readers will need a URL they can
cut and paste to their browser to get to your site.
Plus, if the recipient is reading a printed copy (especially
business execs, and long-article newsletter readers), they'll
need a link to type in by hand.
Avoid as many redirects as you can. Each time a click is
redirected, you stand a chance of losing some of your clicks
along the way. Redirects may be from publisher's metrics
systems, your ad serving metrics system, affiliate links, cart
couponing systems, etc.
Make sure whoever hosts your landing page promises to be up
99.99% of the time. (The difference between 99% and 99.99% is
nine hours of possible downtime per month.)
And, last but not least, consider adding a phone number to your
ad instead of just relying on a link. Multichannel responders
are the most valuable customers there are, and more response
channels generally equal more responses.
-> Useful links related to this article:
Six Online Advertising Media Directors Speak Out: What's Working, Worries, & Pet Peeves
The rules of frequency: Why you should never run an ad just once