Insert Media Come of Age

Flip through Current’s recent summer sale catalog, and out flies a blow-in insert for Guthy-Renker’s Proactiv Solution, an acne treatment. No question, Current is among the growing number of marketers that accept inserts in their catalogs and outgoing packages as a way to add revenue. The Colorado Springs, CO-based company also uses inserts as a prospecting tool, particularly for its label business.

But Current won’t discuss its insert programs. Neither will Bose Radio, another major inserter, or many other marketers for that matter.

Years ago, it seems, insert media — more commonly called alternative media before the rise of the Internet — acquired a reputation as the stepchild of the direct marketing industry. The downscale, if not downright questionable, nature of many of those early offers was no doubt the reason. Upscale catalogers wanted no part of a medium that could possibly tarnish their first-quality image.

The stepchild image persists. Yet the insert arena has grown vastly over the years — to an estimated annual circulation of 7 billion inserts when all alternative categories are tallied.

Five years ago, says Leon Henry, founder/CEO of Leon Henry Inc., a Scarsdale, NY-based list firm specializing in insert media, catalog ride-alongs were nonexistent. As of the first quarter of this year, more than 80 catalogers were offering bind-ins and about 250 were offering blow-ins, he says.

As a marketing tool, insert media are attracting new interest for their cost-effectiveness. The absence of postage and hefty rental fees means inserts can be created, produced, and delivered for pennies apiece. What’s more, the shaky economy has led to decreased response for many catalogers, notes Dan Plunkett, senior vice president of marketing at Singer Direct, an alternative media management/brokerage agency also located in Scarsdale. Decreased response, of course, translates to fewer buyer names to rent. “There’s not as much out there as there used to be,” Plunkett says.

While many catalog marketers have been able to offset sagging response with Internet sales, some predict online growth will start slowing. “The Internet has helped maintain their growth,” Plunkett says. “But sooner or later every medium seems to plateau.”

And as more catalogers have come to accept and use insert media, they have raised the bar, notes Dean Barile, vice president of insert media management at Hackensack, NJ-based list firm Mokrynski & Associates. “They understand the importance of a nice piece. So the caliber of inserts has gotten better over the years,” he says.

So it seems safe to say that insert media are coming of age. More companies are entering the market. Nonetheless, Henry says, “penetration is very low. Of 40,000 catalogers, only 800 or 1,000 are accepting inserts.”

Which isn’t a bad thing, he adds. For catalogers that decide to accept inserts or opt to use insert media as a prospecting tool, Henry says, “there is potential on either side because the penetration remains shallow.”

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