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Increasing Readership in Ads and Direct Mail

The Two Paragraph Rule of Readership Survival

By Jeffrey Dobkin

If you owned a restaurant, you’d only be as good as your last meal. If it wasn’t any good, your customer won’t be back.

If you owned a print shop, you’d only be as good as your last job. Deliver poor printing, or deliver late—you’re outta there.

In direct mail, you’re only as good as your last two paragraphs.

You see, in direct mail, you get less of a shot. You can entice your potential customer to open your package with great teaser copy; you can write the most brilliant opening line, then have a compelling set of benefits to keep your reader reading. But as soon as your copy becomes dull, boring, stiff—or worse, less interesting—your mail piece will hit the round file faster than you can get gas eating at Denny’s.

And therein lies the danger of long-copy packages in direct mail.

Any time you put together two paragraphs that aren’t crisp, fluid, and fun reading, your readership drops off dramatically—and fast.

So does your response. And your income.

In today’s busy environment, readers simply no longer have time for long passages. Just give me the essence; the Cliffs Notes. Don’t bother me with the long, lurid details, just give me straight-up information in a fast and easy-to-digest form.

Information is presented in catch phrases and synopses. News—and information—is delivered today in bits and bytes. TV news, the ultimate presenter of hyped stories and trivial information, is delivered in soundbites, in three-second bursts, just like videos on MTV.

In direct mail, if you can hold a reader’s attention for a couple of minutes, you’re doing much better than average.

Five minutes in your package is excellent.

And if they look for it, can they find the order form in all the clutter?

If they do and they can, you’re probably about 85% of the way home.

Just keep in mind, the longer your package, the more chances you give your reader to find those two not-quite-up-to-snuff paragraphs, and the faster your mail piece goes from the black “we made money” to the red “we lost money” side of your profit and loss statement.