Do Puns Sell? (Or, “This Makes Me See Red”)

June 21st, 2007 by Bob Bly

The Economist recently sent me a promotion that flies in the face of conventional wisdom for what works in direct mail selling magazine subscriptions:

1. It’s a self-mailer.

2. The whole thing is white type on red paper stock.

3. Even though it’s an oversize mailer, it’s mainly blank space with just a headline and one short paragraph of copy.

4. It’s a pun. The headline says “Passionately Red” — and remember, the whole mailer is bright red.

Yet, I suspect it may be working, since I THINK I got this — or something close to it — once before from The Economist.

Anyone out there get the Economist’s “red” mailing and have any thoughts on whether and why it works?

Anyone out there associated with the Economist who can tell us the results on this piece?


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58 responses about “Do Puns Sell? (Or, “This Makes Me See Red”)”

  1. Jim Logan said:

    Red State Republicans come to mind. Many conservatives would disagree, but he Economist is generally known as a right-leaning weekly…on issues related to the economy. I think 🙂

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read The Economist, but that’s the first thing that hit my mind.

  2. Sheri Cyprus said:

    Interesting timing for me that you would have a post about color in mailing, Bob, — especially red. I’m currently writing a Christmas-themed sweeps package and lately I’ve been wondering about the different messages the colors red and green send to people etc. Jim, now I’m curious — if The Economist’s red mailing made you think of the political right, would a predominantly green mailing make you think of the political left then, as in environmentall issues, or not necessarily?

  3. Jodi Kaplan said:

    I worked for the Economist’s conference and research report division a LOOONG time ago. It’s red because The Economist logo is red (it’s a particular PMS color, which they internally refer to as “Economist red”), so it’s both “punny” and branding. Back then, what tested well (for the reports at least) was a 6×9 window envelope. I don’t know what’s pulling now.

  4. Sam I Am said:

    Maybe it’s a pun on that silly (red) campaign?

  5. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    You might want to check with the “Who’s Mailing What” archive to see how often it mailed.

    I also find it hard to believe that it worked. But I have found that the decisions on these things are not always based on hard data. Too many times creative decisions are based on what someone in charge “likes”!

    I once told an agency that the ad they wanted to use to promote their services was a mistake. It didn’t focus on benefits; it was based on irrelevant borrowed interest and a weak pun. I said it would make them look foolish.

    They dropped me from the project for trying to help them!


  6. Gloria Hildebrandt said:

    Sheri, I would definitely tend to think that the use of green is an attempt to associate with environmentalism and the Green Party. Except if it was used with a Christmas tree or wreath. Red and green together only suggests Christmas to me.

  7. Mary-Ann Horley said:

    Interesting, the Economist is a British magazine and red has the complete opposite political meaning here. I suspect what the red is trying to do is subconsciously balance out the fiscally-right-leaning content of the magazine.

  8. Linda G said:

    Interesting theories all, so here’s another less heady one (pun intended). In the millisecond it takes you to assess an advertisement your eyeballs have sent a message to your brain that some kind of action is needed. Red is primal, it makes your eyes dilate which tells your brain to pay attention. That’s why stop sign are red and exec’s wear red power ties and a host of other examples you can conjure up right now. The bigger the concentration of red the more pronounced the actual biological reaction. Like it or not, unless we are desensitized through negative exposure, red will always make us “ready”.

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