Entry 655: Marketing Lessons from the Ku Klux Klan

Regular readers of this blog know that my revenue-generating job is writing direct mail, much of it for worthy non-profit organizations.

But this post is about a decidedly unworthy non-profit organization: the Ku Klux Klan.

The hooded hatemongers have apparently embarked on a nationwide direct mail campaign. One such mailing–an application to join the Klan–was recently received by an 83-year-old woman in Peoria Heights, Illinois, who reported it to her local law enforcement officials.

This story offended me on two fronts. First, well, obviously, it’s the Klan. But more importantly, it demonstrated lousy direct marketing practices.

For starters, what sort of mailing lists is the KKK renting that would include someone who is not only a self-described “mostly homebound” octogenarian, but also a lifelong Democrat and a long-time member of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center? They need to find better list brokers who can work their magic to assemble a list of people who have, let us say, a propensity to contribute to organizations like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the George Zimmerman Defense Fund, and the Mel Gibson Fan Club.

I’d also recommend a slightly younger demographic. Even if this 83-year-old woman was a white-haired white supremacist, what good would it do the Klan to sign her up? They would need a robe large enough to cover her walker, and she would constantly be falling behind during their marches, and somebody would probably have to carry her torch for her.

But what I really want to talk about is the direct mail package itself (pictured below). Notice the “hand-addressed” envelope, which the woman described as “almost illiterate, suggesting the handiwork and brain power of a drunken baboon.” This is actually a good direct marketing technique. We frequently use a computer to mimic hand addressing to make the recipient believe it is personal correspondence, although we prefer to have our marketing efforts appear to be coming from someone higher up on the evolutionary chart.

The application itself is much too daunting to encourage response, even though they are offering a free t-shirt. In fact, the Klan application is requesting more personal information than a typical life insurance application, although, to be fair, it’s not asking if you use drugs or nicotine (if you want to join the KKK, they probably assume you do).

Plus, why does the Ku Klux Klan need your Social Security and Driver’s License number? Anyone stupid enough to provide that information to the KKK is probably perfect member material. On the other hand, if you’re dumb enough to give them this personal data, you may be too dim-witted to know what “D.L.” means.*

And why would the Klan be asking if you’ve ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor? Do they only accept people who answer “yes?” Speaking of which, notice the question about if you’ve ever applied for membership before. How awful a person would you have to be if the Ku Klux Klan has rejected you?

Also, the bottom is very confusing. The lines for “Interviewers (sic) Signature” and “Grand Dragon” should be in a box labeled “For Office Use Only” so the applicant doesn’t think he needs to get those signatures before he returns the application. And one of the main principles of direct marketing is to make it as easy as possible to respond, but it seems as though the International Keystone Knights (possibly related to the International Keystone Kops) requires a money order for its dues payment, which means the applicant must go out to get one, thus negating the possibility of an “impulse response,” which, I have to assume, is the only type of response these people are capable of. (I’m guessing a “carefully considered response” is out of the question.) On the other hand, maybe the Klan figures it can’t trust a personal check from anyone who would want to be a member.

At least the application is well-branded with a logo that appears to be one of the symbols for an alternative gender identity, albeit one of a person who would have no chance of choosing the appropriate public restroom. And it has a website (http://www.ikkkkk.org/**) which someone can visit to order merchandise like “You may not recognize me without my hood” bumper stickers or the rather self-defeating “Member of the Invisible Empire” decals.

On the website, you can also read the past “Sermans (sic) from our Imperial Kludd.” That’s an awesome title, isn’t it? The only conceivable response, when introduced to the Imperial Kludd, is “Seriously?”  Still, I bet the guy is hoping that his son will inherit his hood and become Kludd II.

Fortunately for the KKK, this mailing is only part of its direct marketing campaign. They’ve also been delivering the flyer at right by tossing it onto lawns in plastic bags with rocks. This shows more sophistication than the previously-discussed mailing because, a) they’ve cleverly avoided rising postage costs and, b) they’ve used what we in the industry call “a freemium”– a small gift to get people to open your mailing. However, through rigorous testing over decades, we have determined that name and address stickers usually work better than rocks.

This flyer also uses a toll-free number which is usually a good idea, but it is much too hazy about its “call to action.” It should tell the recipient exactly why they should call the Klanline. How will doing so solve the “troubles in your neighborhood” or help you sleep tonight? Am I calling to have Ambien delivered? They should let me know whether my call will result in a massive emergency response of burning crosses or just a couple of hooded nuts riding down the block on bicycles.

In closing, I certainly hope the Klan won’t take my advice about any of this. But if they’re interested, I have a few suggestions about places they can drive their cars with the “You may not recognize me without my hood” bumper stickers.

See you soon, and by “you,” I definitely don’t mean them.

*Okay, I’ll admit it: it took me a second.
**A full two k’s better than the original!

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