Our Work

To Tease or not to Tease

Teaser copy is, of course, the text on the outside of an envelope designed to “tease” someone into opening it. Typically, you see mundane stuff like “FREE gift inside” or “Matching Gift: Double Your Impact” or “Open Immediately.” Exciting? Not really. Overused? No doubt. But just remember, if you’re seeing something again and again it’s probably because it’s working!

These kinds of teasers are like pizza. Lacking inspiration for dinner? Pizza taste good and fills you up. In a pinch… it gets the job done.

But I don’t recommend a steady diet of pizza. And truly talented pros out there are creating clever teaser copy that get envelopes opened without putting the reader to sleep. Paul Bobnak over at Target Marketing Magazine has, for the second year in a row, poured over thousands of direct mail packages to select his 6 Best Direct Mail Teasers. It’s worth a read. One of my personal favorites is an entry from Ocean Conservancy, “10 THINGS you never knew about the ocean that will amaze you. NUMBER 3 will take your breath away…”

Here’s a little secret:

I’ve been in this business for more than 20 years and a lot has changed about direct-response fundraising. But a lot hasn’t. And one of those annoyingly consistent unchanging truths is this: often the best teaser copy is… no teaser copy at all.

It’s incredibly hard to beat the “mystery” of a bare naked envelope.

And for creative folks, that’s hard to take. A direct mail package just doesn’t seem finished until you come up with a clever teaser that screams for attention. And if you’re working at an agency you know that doing what works is only half the battle. Pleasing the client is the other half. And when clients are paying you for being creative… they probably aren’t going to be wowed with a plain white envelope.

One of my “mentors” in this industry is a guy I’ve never met, Jerry Huntsinger. You can google him. Back in the late 80s and early 90s (before email and the internet revolutionized business communication), if you subscribed to his “service” he would send you a three ring binder at the beginning of the year and then each month send you a new three-hole-punched lesson to read and insert in your binder. Even then, it seemed very old school but in a good way. And he’s one of my favorite writers of any genre. Always good about sprinkling in a lot of humor to help make the lesson stick. One of these lessons was titled How I Learned to Love Teaser Copy and it contained this gem:

And some days when I was in a black mood, I would come up with teaser copy that immediately went into the trash because the client would never approve of it, such as:

“Open this envelope – or we will remove your name from our prayer list.”

“Renew your gift immediately and avoid a bothersome telephone call 30 days from now when you sit down to your evening meal.”

“Have you run out of money?”

Funny stuff right? And they probably would have worked gang busters if anyone had had the guts to actually try them. Actually that third one he did finally manage to get in the mail and…it became a longstanding control.

But Huntsinger was well aware even then that often the best teaser is no teaser. He goes on to talk about creating what he considered the “perfect teaser copy” for the Nature Conservancy—and how it failed to work.

So, would some clever teaser copy make your results soar? Would no teaser copy work even better?

To cite another of those annoyingly, but well, true, truisms: Test it.

Keep Teasing,

Rod Taylor, President

To Tease or not to Tease