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Dick Benson is an “old-school” direct response copywriter.

He never worked online.

He only worked in direct mail — snail mail.

Specifically, he specialized in selling magazine subscriptions.


“More testing is done by magazine publishers selling subscriptions than is done in the rest of the industry because of the enormous volume of mail and the relatively low unit price of magazines,” wrote Benson.


He made his creative decisions based on many, many tests — countless tests.

And all that testing helped him create The Rules (some would even call them The Laws) of direct mail advertising.

Benson called them his “31 Rules of Thumb.”

Before retiring, he published them in his now-classic book, Secrets of Successful Direct Mail, with the following disclaimer:

“Nothing works all the time, but ignore any of these rules at your own peril...”

Don’t advertise via direct mail yourself?

That’s OK because many of these rules are still 100% relevant to online marketing and copywriting — and they always will be. They’ll always be relevant because human psychology doesn’t change.

Yes, our world changes, our technology changes. But our inherent brain triggers and biases do not.

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Benson’s 31 Rules of Thumb

Exactly as they appear in his book:

1. A two-time buyer is twice as likely to buy as a one-time buyer. Most of the experts I know who issue catalogs, handle circulation for publications or raise funds by mail know this to be true.

2. The same product sold at different prices will result in the same net income per thousand mailed.

3. Sweepstakes will improve results by 50% or more.

4. A “credit” or “bill-me” offer will improve results by 50% or more.

5. Tokens or stickers always improve results.

6. Memberships renew better than plain subscriptions by 10% or more.

7. “Department store" pricing always pays except for membership offers.

8. You can never sell two things at once.

9. Self-mailers almost never work.

10. The more believable a special offer, the more likely its success.

11. The addition of installment payments for an item over $15 will increase results by 15%.

12. Dollar for dollar, premiums are better incentives than cash discounts.

13. Adding elements to a mailing package, even though obviously adding cost, is more likely to pay out than cheapening the package.

14. For magazines a “soft” offer ("Try a complimentary copy at our risk”) is better than a hard offer (cash or "bill me”).

15. A Yes-No option will increase orders.

16. “FREE” is a magic word.

17. Two premiums are frequently better than one.

18. Long copy is better than short copy.

19. Personalized letters work better to house lists (those who have bought or subscribed before) than to "cold" lists.

20. Brochures and letters should stand alone and each of them should contain all the information.

21. Direct mail should be scrupulously honest.

22. Subscriptions sold at half-price for at least eight months will convert at renewal time just as strongly as subscriptions sold for a full year at full price.

23. Lists are the most important ingredient to the success of a promotional mailing.

24. The offer is the second most important ingredient of direct mail.

25. Letters should look and feel like letters.

26. An exclusive reduced price to a house list will more than pay its way.

27. To predict final results from a promotion, you can assume you will always receive as many more orders as you've received in the past week. This projection will generally be valid beginning with the second week’s orders and continuing thereafter.

28. A follow-up mailing dropped two weeks after the first mailing will pull 50% of the original response.

On your desktop?  Look left!  On your phone?  Look down!

On your desktop? Look left!
On your phone? Look down!

29. An incentive to pay cash when you offer both cash and credit options reduces net response.

30. Test-mailing packages are best when they come from independent creative sources.

31. Offers of subscriptions using two terms (i.e., 8 months, 16 months) will pull more money ...but 10% fewer orders.

Want me to write an article about just one of these rules?

Any single one that you want to learn more about?

Let me know in the comments and I’ll try.


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Judge not lest ye be judged.