Chapter 3 – Dear Miss Afflerbach

Dear Miss Afflerbach

In March 1961, San Francisco advertising maverick Howard Luck Gossage placed an odd ad for Eagle Shirtmakers in the New Yorker magazine, which had a circulation of about 400,000 copies. The ad called for people to mail in a coupon to Miss Afflerbach at the company’s headquarters in Quakertown, Pennsylvania in order to receive a piece of cloth with a buttonhole and a pocket – a Shirtkerchief, or was it a Shirtkin, or a Napchief? – of dubious use or value.

Something incredible happened: the company received 11,342 coupons. Many people also gave a smart answer to the question being asked, i.e. what use was a pocket in a handkerchief/napkin, and a book with the best letters to Miss Afflerbach was eventually published, giving yet more visibility to the publicity stunt. Why did it work so well? For one thing, few ads are smart, witty and involving, and so the ones that do stand out have a good chance at striking it big.

Consider this: today, in the era of “interactive advertising”, 400,000 banner ads would lead not to 11,342 coupons sent via mail, but to 400 clicks if you’re lucky, and so at most 100 people asking for the Shirtkerchief, or less than 1% of the results Gossage was able to bring home for his client. Why? Because banner ads are smaller than ads in the New Yorker and don’t take up the whole page? Sure. But even when ads on the web do take the whole page, results are only marginally better.

 

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