Nutrition Action Healthletter's long-time control continues to go strong.
This package was created in-house at the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in 1992 by Dennis Bass and Bill Dugan (who is now vice president and general manager at The Pohly Group in Boston--NL/NL 3/31/06). The package is currently in the mail for Labor Day 2006.
The original version carried the 10 Foods You Should Never Eat envelope teaser. When I profiled the package in 1997 the teaser had shifted to "We Tell Secrets," but in 2006 they are back to the original form.
The carrier also does two more things I like. A strong claim (on the reverse) JUST ONE BUCK AN ISSUE, and it finds space for the "one very strong testimonial" we all look for:
"Sprightly writing, independent, no-nonsense research, and hands-on information make Nutrition Action the nation's best-selling health newsletter"--Time magazine.
Some tweaks but still the basics
Since 1997 there have been some tweaks, but the basic contents of the package are the same. Inside: a four-page (two sheets) letter, still typewriter copy in 1997, typeset now; a brochure; an order form; and two additional pieces. In 1997: 10 Food Secrets You Should Know and in 2006 back to the original: 10 Foods You Should Never Eat.
The brochure fulfills the "sample issue function." Along with testimonials and "Six Great Reasons to Read Nutrition Action Today," it includes a number of illustrations of pages with callouts highlighting features.
Taken as a whole, this package definitely fits into the model of "If they are willing to give away this much information in the package, how much more must there be when I subscribe?"
After 150 million pieces mailed, still the winner
By 1997 NAL had mailed 70 million pieces of this package and circulation had reached a peak of one million. I recently spoke with Dennis Bass who is still with NAHL, now serving as deputy executive director of the CSPI parent organization. Now, in year 14 or 15, he estimates they have mailed some 150 million pieces of this package. "Probably twice a year we test an entirely new package against it, but it remains the winner. Similarly, our $10 price has been tested but it just seems so attractive as an initial offer."*
In 2006 circulation of The Nutrition Action Healthletter is 900,000. "We mailed very heavily in the initial years to build circulation to 1 million," Bass said. He added that response rates "have tracked general direct mail returns (which I suppose is the polite way of saying they aren't quite what they once were) but have remained steady for a number of recent years. We've made the claim to be the largest circulation health letter for years and no one has contradicted us."
Bad food = good publicity
Over the years CSPI has gotten an enormous amount of publicity with their studies on the nutritional values (or lack thereof) of certain types of foods: Chinese take-out, movie popcorn, Mexican, etc. More recently Nutrition has looked at coffee house food (Starbucks) and mall food courts. "I think," Bass said, "that over time we've covered about every type of restaurant there is." At one point a national survey found that nearly 100 million Americans had heard about the studies published in the newsletter.
Through the years the focus of the newsletter has changed. Some years ago, CSPI director of nutrition Bonnie Lieberman told the Washington Post that they "used to publish a lot of 'inside the beltway' stuff about USDA policies and what the FDC was doing before realizing what people were more interested in was 'what to eat for breakfast.'"
Or "what not to eat." A continuing criticism of the newsletter is that its editors don't seem to like food very much. Reading the newsletter is sometimes like reading a Consumer Reports article that finds a new Porsche "unsatisfactory" in rear-seat headroom, fuel economy, and trunk space.
The current 10 Foods You Should Never Eat list includes: Burger King french fries and Haagen-Dazs store's Mint Chip Dazzler. (Who knew?) And--perhaps to show that the editors do like some foods--the opposite listing of Ten Super Foods for Better Health includes skim milk and RyKrisp.
The future of marketing Nutrition Action Healthletter is "More of the same," Bass told me. "The baby boomers are turning 60 now and entering our primary market. People in their '50s and '60s, encountering their first chronic illnesses, become more concerned about good health and eating habits."
* Bruce Levenson, senior partner at UCG, once commented, "There is no believable combination of promotion response and renewal rate that I can model that will allow a publisher who cannot mail at non-profit rates to sell a newsletter for $10."
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|Title Annotation:||DM Notebook|
|Publication:||The Newsletter on Newsletters|
|Date:||Oct 4, 2006|
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