Do you get the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes offers in the mail? Or am I targeted because I’m getting old and still read mail? If it is the latter, I’m not complaining. I’m up for $7,000 a week for life as much as the next person–even if I do have fewer weeks left to enjoy it. They’ve got me at “no purchase necessary,” though I have inherited my mother’s skepticism on this point. “If you don’t buy something, your entry goes into a different stack,” she insisted. Still, I don’t want the audience dwindle to the point that it goes away. It makes me sad to see great traditions, especially those involving the delivery of over-sized checks fade away. Gigantic screenshots of PayPal transactions or of whatever the myriad of phone-to-phone payment deals are called don’t have the same visual and dramatic appeal to me. This is why I have some unsolicited advice for the company that once thought it was a good idea to have Ed McMahon drive up to your house [Generational note: Ed McMahon was the Tonight Show side-kick who smiled broadly during some pretty lame skits because he was drunk. Your grandparents will think he was great, but won’t be able to come up with a reason why.]
Can it be saved? Granted, Ed McMahon, the company’s best spokesperson is less mobile and less recognizable now that he has been dead for a decade, stuff in envelopes doesn’t get read except on Christmas when that card an ancient relative insists on sending is opened so everyone can play “what does that illegible cursive writing say?”, bank checks and quickly becoming an nostalgic oddity like phone booths and flash bulbs already are, and magazines collect dust even in the dentist office. So, I appreciate that there are some challenges to reviving the business model. I must try. Here are some ways I think Publisher’s Clearing House can become more relevant to a broader spectrum of potential customers.
First, change the stuff you’re selling. I have noticed over the years that the hundreds of magazine subscriptions offered has been slashed to a couple dozen. That seems like a reasonable move. If fewer people subscribe to magazines, shift to another source of revenue. The problem is that the products that have replaced the magazines probably appeal only to people who still read magazines. They are one insert for inexpensive and “comfortable” catheters away from the sorts of items I see advertised on religious cable channel showings of The Rifleman or Ozzy and Harriet. And, yes, I’m aware I just admitted watching these shows. Chuck Connors is a genius. Let’s look at some of the ads:
Yes, this represents the trifecta of elderly desires: nuts in tins, old style baking crocks, and word game magazines. These are all available at the elder-targeted “4 easy payment” rates. For the Social Security set, the items will bring to mind comfort and good hosting. Surely the visitors will enjoy sticking their hand in a tin of nuts that unknown others have stuck their fingers in. Nuts are designed for germ sharing. After nuts eating, their guests will marvel at the home-style cookware. “Oh my goodness, we had a casserole dish that looked something like that.” When company makes a remark like that, the host can take it to the next level by replying “You know, I got it for three easy payments.” After all are gone, it is time to relax with a word search puzzle. Heaven. Well, heaven is probably two years off, but this will do in the meantime.
These sheets highlight the balance between the need for practical (magnifier–maybe for those puzzles) and enjoyable (Sinatra), as well as the balance between personal with family (lighthouse). The solar lighthouse is the perfect gift for that son or daughter who has a yard. Yards need decoration. Lighthouses are great decorations. If a beach has a lighthouse, people walk to it and then take their picture by it. No further proof is needed. Those kids (people in their 40s) today love anything solar; thus the perfect gift.
In these examples, they are getting even more overt about the intended audience. Why the elderly would like to read a book entitled You’re No Spring Chicken is beyond me, but the cartoons do look inviting. Laughing at one’s self is the key to youthfulness, perhaps. By reading What’s so Funny About Getting Old? the reader will lose two years–two more chances to win $7000 a week for life. Then the reader will look like the model in the face hair removal ad that clearly doesn’t need face hair removal.
There must be fifty of these advertising sheets shoved into the initial mailing. I would guess that this is a good marketing strategy to pursue if they want to continue targeting people of this certain age. The bulk gives the lonely something to read. All of the advertisements are spread out on a table. Each one is considered and discussed. “You don’t need that,” one says. “Oh, you’re probably right, but you would sure use this.” And on and on it goes until someone decides that they have to order something in order to qualify for the prize, and one leads to four orders.
Since the population of World War II veterans decreases by about 1000 souls a day and Vietnam veteran numbers are declining at about 300 a day, it is only a matter of time before the Publishers Clearing House audience is unable to open the envelope. I suggest replacing these advertisements with similar items for people a couple decades younger. Replace Sinatra with Journey. Swap out the baking dishes for nostalgic microwave bowls. Instead of word search magazines, offer up a minesweeper app. Keep the hair removal. Everyone needs that.
Step two: Stop being such a nag. Being nagged was once a badge of honor. It might bully the old who try to maintain their people-pleaser attitude in order to not be completely forgotten at Easter. No one else likes it. Look at the three negative messages I got in one letter:
I felt threatened and resistant. Immediately I decided to show them by filling out the official prize form and sending it once again with NO ORDER. Ha. I will not be bullied. I think a reassuring approach would work better. “We want you to be a SuperPrize winner.” “Our last notice probably sucked, so we get why you didn’t respond. Tell us if this one sucks less.” “Check out these colorful flyers. We’ve selected some items you might like. Zero catheters! 40 percent more Journey!”
Step three: Make the process less complicated. Now, you have to search through the garbage sack stack of flyers, take some eye medication to negate the effects of all the colorfulness, find an official prize sticker, affix it to one spot, find a special prize sticker, lick it and paste it to another spot, fold things, put them in an envelope with a certain number aligning with a small slot. . . It’s exhausting. If you’re me, it takes a few attempts, a drink and a nap, and a complete emptying of the trash to pull the lickable sticker from the coffee grounds in the trash can. Maybe people had patience for that in the old days. Maybe such a process is designed to make the audience think they are improving their chances with their work. “I bet only one in a thousand will line up this sticker just right, and all of the sloppy people’s submissions will be thrown away!” Maybe the various steps are supposed to slow the reader down, providing more time to be drawn in by lighthouse beacon, and make a purchase. Who knows. All I am certain of is that modern audiences do not have the patience for it. We think that the millennials invented laziness, but I’m pretty sure it was a trait handed down.
These three things might begin to save the legacy of Publishers Clearing House for future generations. If the grid goes down and mail carriers once again are greeted with cookies and knowing glances, we want this contest to still be around. Conducting audience re-evaluations every decade or so will allow PCH to continuously appeal to whoever happens to be in their 40s-60s at the time–the sweet spot of excess wealth and loneliness in American society. Getting 20-somethings to participate seems way too daunting. Baby steps, as they say.