Insert Media Celebrates 50 Years
Insert media has won greater acceptance in the last few years, due in part to the creation of The Direct Marketing Association’s Insert Media Council and the continued efforts by list companies to popularize it, according to Leon Henry, founder and president of Hartsdale, N.Y.-based list management firm Leon Henry Inc. The marketing channel hits a major milestone this year, as both insert media and Leon Henry Inc. turn 50 years old. This article will discuss the origins of insert media and Leon Henry’s role in developing this marketing tactic.
While Henry has done a lot to spread the word about insert media, he doesn’t take credit for inventing it. In 1956, he started his business selling advertising space on grocery bags, while Leonard Holland, who was working for the Popular Club Plan home goods catalog, opened his company’s packages to inserts from photo finishers, record clubs and insurance companies.
After about eight years in business, Henry says he became frustrated by the untrackable nature of the space advertising he was selling and decided to focus on direct mail efforts, which provided much more data on a campaign’s success or failure. Intrigued by Holland’s program at Popular Club Plan, Henry gathered his own group of clients who were interested in trading inserts. Coincidently, Holland had started his own insert media business separate from Popular Club Plan about the same time.
In the following years, from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s, insert media began to boom, notes Henry. He cites rising postage costs as the primary reason inserts began to spread. Much like today, direct marketers looked for cheaper methods of getting their messages to potential customers while catalogers hoped to offset their shipping costs by opening their packages to inserts. “Then you had customers who came along, Western Publishing with their Betty Crocker series and others like them, who would buy literally anything you could get them,” says Henry. The emergence of customers like this drew more attention from list managers and brokers, pulling companies such as Walter Karl and Direct Media into the mix.
Although insert media gained wide acceptance from clients and drew support from list managers and brokers, Henry points out that the channel’s growth has been stymied by its clandestine nature. Advertising has always been a “me too” sort of business, and while it’s easy to see which companies are seeing success with the Internet or using space ads, package inserts travel along quietly, says Henry.”People spend lots of money on it, but you just don’t see it unless you look really hard.”
While a significant number of catalogers use insert media regularly, both as advertisers and distributors, it’s a relatively small percentage of all catalogers, says Henry. He acknowledges that some catalogers don’t like the idea of anything reaching their customers that they didn’t create. Others realize there’s money to be made by opening their packages, and some catalogers even consider inserts as a benefit to the customer by offering services or products that complement their brands. Henry is quick to point out that all of these viewpoints are valid.
He’s even quicker to note that the number of catalogers not using insert media represents a huge amount of potential for the industry. And after 50 years, there’s no forseeable end to the number of packages being mailed, which means insert media isn’t going anywhere either.