The Face Of Ho Chi Minh: A Time Magazine Direct Mail Piece

By Ray Schultz

Marketing guru Ron Jacobs has observed that “Consumers don’t have the patience anymore to read an eight-page direct mail letter.” True, and they probably don’t even have what it takes to read a four-page one.

But they must have had it in 1966, because that’s when Time magazine sent the following four-pager.

Like the classic Time letters from the 1940s and ‘50s, this one is a historical artifact. It introduces Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam, to the American people. Then it goes on to quote Marshall McLuhan, mention both LBJ and Jimmy Hoffa in passing, and explain—in some detail—the benefits of Time.

The envelope features a line drawing of a pair of sandals, with this copy: “The wearer of these sandals said: “Americans don’t like long, inconclusive wars. This is going to be a long, inconclusive war.”

Inside, at the top of the letter, is a compelling image of Ho Chi Minh. Unfortunately, I have only a black-and-white Xerox copy, and did not write down the color of these illustrations. I suspect it was red.

Having found this letter in the Time Inc. archive, I am sad to report that it was one of the last of its type. That very year, Time started sending charmless, computer-generated sweepstakes letters, although Bill Jayme’s long Cool Friday letter was mailed into the 1970s.

There were no handwritten notes attached to this one, so I don’t know who wrote it, or how it pulled. And I wonder how many people, even those who snapped up the offer, made it all the way through. But here it is: One of the last great long letters written by Time’s direct mail masters. Enjoy.

Dear Reader: 

The frail, goat-bearded comrade is in remarkable health.

At 76 he is ruddy-cheeked and cheerful. He dresses in –cream-colored, mandarin-style uniforms and “Ho Chi Minh scandals” carved from automobile tires. His tastes are exquisite. He smokes American cigarettes and dines on a rare delicacy called “swallow’s nest” – a marriage of sea algae and swallow’s saliva. 

In 1962 Ho Chi Minh said: “We held off the French for eight years. We can hold off the Americans for at least that long. American’s don’t like long, inconclusive wars. This is going to be a long, inconclusive war.”

Drenched by a monsoon rain, a leathery U.S. Marine sergeant and his platoon wait in the swampy dark outside a wretched hamlet where V.C. are reported hiding. Finally a wan moon reappears. Its dim light glints on weapons carried by four fleeing figures heading out of the village. The marines open fire. A grenade explodes.  

Says the sergeant: “I hate this goddamned place like I never hated any place before, but I’ll tell you something else: I want to win here more than I ever did in two wars before.”

Right now the war in Viet Nam is neither popular nor unpopular with most Americans. It is simply confusing.

But as U.S. commitment deepens, personal involvement becomes apparent to each of us. And it becomes expedient to know all the risks, reasons and alternatives. To know the facts.

And that is one of the reasons why I am sending you this special invitation to enroll as a regular TIME reader, at a special introductory rate:

. . . 17 weeks of TIME for only $1.87. (Just 11 cents an issue.)

But (you may ask) why do I want to read a newsmagazine? And why TIME?

Let me explain why…

In 1923 TIME initiated the newsmagazine idea.

It was a new technique of newsgathering and a new format for presenting the news which offered the reader a multiplicity of news stories each week about all kinds of human activity, within a unified structure.

There was also a consistent “tone of voice” throughout TIME’s pages. Because it was different from all other news media of the era, a new form of journalism had been introduced.

Today TIME’s way of presenting the news conforms completely with the way we live. It is as integral to our society as the electric and electronic wonders that surround us.

The newsmagazine form offers an integrated mosaic picture of our time…

Says Professor Marshall McLuhan, Canada’s social catalyst: “The newsmagazine form is pre-eminently mosaic in form presenting a corporate image of society in action…The reader of the newsmagazine becomes much involved in the making of meanings for this corporate image…”

After assembling what McLuhan calls “the crucial commodity of information” through many channels and from many sources, TIME prints only the most significant of that week’s news, news of greatest human interest. From all directions, covering all facets.

It is then up to the reader to assemble this mosaic of the news and discover for himself what it means…and by doing so becoming involved in his world in a way never before possible.

The reader begins to know who he is, what he is doing, and what it means to be a member of this particular society at this particular moment in history.  

Thus the newsmagazine is recognized as a modern, efficient and essential tool of communication.

But how does this happen? How does the reader receive sufficient information each week to formulate his own meanings?

If you know TIME (and most people do) you know that it covers the news each week completely in23 separate sections. Among them: The Nation, The World, People, Education, Law, Religion, Medicine, Art, Modern Living, Music, Sport, Science, Show Business, Theater, U.S. Business, World Business Cinema, Books.

Each section of Time is also composed as a mosaic…

Take “Medicine” for example. In six consecutive issues TIME published the important news about infectious diseases, orthopedics, metabolic disorders , cardiology, physiology, parasitic diseases, gynecology, cancer, neurology, doctors, diagnosis, bacteriology, gastro-enterology.  

In a single issues under “U.S. Business” there were stories on the economy, profits, auto, advertising, government, mining, banking. The following issue carried news of housing, publishing, publishing, communications, corporations, steel, money, retailing, oil, industry. And the next: shipping, airlines, finance, Wall Street, aviation, insurance, taxes.

One week recently under the heading “The Nation” TIME reported on President Johnson’s Hawaii Conference; the $3.39 billion foreign aid package; Senator Dirksen’s filibuster; Jimmy Hoffa; a wicked snowstorm; California’s Governor Pat Brown; Wyoming’s Governor Clifford Hansen; Mississippi’s Governor Paul Johnson; the Hudson River Valley; and the new head of all military construction in Viet Nam: Brig. Gen. Carroll Dunn.

TIME connects you with the world through a fascinating, complex, modern grapevine of information…

TIME’s staff of editors, writers, researchers and technicians scans the world to amass each week’s fund of new information. They read and translate millions of words, examine thousands of pictures, sift ideas, opinions, quotations, figures, reports….trimming, fitting, checking and transfixing it all into just about 125 columns of news and news-pictures each week. (TIME is a magazine for busy people.)

Each week too, there is an important Cover Story, a TIME Essay (on some subject as controversial as the Divorce Laws, or the Homosexual in America), and a color portfolio. With listings of what’s best in theater, movies, records, books, television.

Only an organization of TIME’s stature, structure and dimension could expend this amount of energy and effort.

But what is just as important: Time is a lot of fun to read … it often reads like fiction, humor or biography…

You can follow the exciting thriller 9reported from TIME’s Paris Bureau): “L’Affaire Ben Barka”, a sensational spy-murder-police scandal that has rocked France as the Dreyfus case did a the turn of the century.

You can play TIME’s new game of “barrendipity” (in contrast to “serendipity”, or the art of finding somewhere where you least expect to find it). Barrendipity is the art of not finding something where you might expect to find it: Danish pastry in Denmark, frankfurters in Frankfurt, English muffins in England, or baked Alaska in Alaska.

You can gain intimate knowledge of a great artist. From TIME’s Cover Story on pianist Arthur Rubenstein, who says:

“I’m passionately involved in life; I love its change, its color its movement. To be alive, to be able to speak, to see, to walk, to have houses, music, paintings – it’s all a miracle. I have adopted the technique of living life from miracle to miracle. Music is not a hobby, not even a passion with me. Music is me.”

With this weekly fund of news, insight, sidelight and background . . . you sense the unpredictable variety of life itself.

Writes Professor Marshall McLuhan: “By using our wits, we can translate the outer world into the fabric of our being.”

TIME helps you “translate.”

There is no set rule about how to read TIME. Some begin at the beginning. Others start from the back. What interests each man and woman is incalculable. So TIME tries to provide as much of interest and value to as many interested people as possible.

As the artists of 6th century Ravenna arranged mosaic tesserae according to size, contour and direction to create monumental designs, so TIME presents the design of our times.

Why not partake of this experience?

Our invitation is enclosed. It enrolls you at once as a TIME reader and brings TIME to your home or office regularly – for 17 weeks at only $1.87 (just 11 cents an issue).

Just put the card in the mail to me today – it’s already postage-paid.

And thank you.

Cordially,

Putney Westerfield

Circulation Director

Privacy in the 19th Century

By Ray Schultz

There’s one small error in the white paper, Privacy and Advertising Mail, by the UC Berkeley School of Law.

The paper quotes a 1917 editorial: “Mail solicitation of business by printed circular has become an intolerable annoyance, to which all are subjected whose addresses appear in the directory or the telephone books.”* And it states that this was “an unusually early instance of stated concerns about advertising mail.”

That’s not quite true. Critics were complaining about junk mail long before 1917. And they sometimes referred to what we now call the privacy issue.

In 1875, in a article titled, “Fancy Advertising,” The New York Times reported on a man whose letter and Post Office boxes were “daily ‘made the recipients’… of a lot of envelopes, which he is put to the trouble of opening, and which he finds contain only advertisements of articles that he does not want to buy, or of companies or professional persons that he does not wish to employ.”

That piece didn’t mention mailing lists, but the vice crusader Anthony Comstock touched on the subject in 1880, in his book Frauds Exposted, when writing about lotteries and other types of frauds. “Any person who ever wrote a letter to a lottery, or other advertised scheme, is liable to have a large circle of correspondents,” he wrote. “The name once obtained must go the round of the fraternity, and, when thus used, is either kept for a new scheme by the same fraud or else sold to another one of the brotherhood.”

Case in point: The use of boarding school catalogues. “At last the child reaches the school, and his or her name appears upon the roll and is printed in the catalogue,” Comstock wrote. “These catalogues are sought for by those who send circulars through the mails advertising obscene and unlawful wares.”

Comstock added that names could also be had by “buying old letters from other dealers for the sake of the names, or by sending circulars to postal clerks and others through the country, offering prizes for a list of the names of youth of both sexes twenty-one years of age, or by purchasing addressed envelopes of those who make a business of collecting names, and then addressing envelopes to supply parties doing business through the mails.”

Granted, Comstock was more upset over what people were being offered by mail than how: privacy was a secondary issue. And legislators failed to mention privacy when they banned lotteries from the mail in 1890. But the subject came up again in a whole new context.

Medical Privacy

In 1904, Ladies Home Journal reported on the letters sent by women to patent medicine advertisers.

“Not one in a thousand of these letters ever reaches the eye of the ‘doctor’ to whom they are addressed,” the article said. “There wouldn’t be hours enough in the day to read them even if he had the desire. On the contrary, these letters from women of a private and delicate nature are opened and read by young men and girls; they go through not fewer than eight different hands before they reach a reply; each in turn reads them, and if there is anything ‘spicy’, you will see the heads of two or three girls get together and enjoy (!) the ‘spice.’ Very often these ‘spicy bits’ are taken home and shown to the friends and families of these girls and men! Time and again have I seen this done: time and again have I been handed over a letter by one of the young fellows with the remark; “Read this: isn’t that rich/” only to read of the recital of some trouble into which a young girl has fallen, or some mother’s sacred story of her daughter’s fall!”

Worse, these “sacredly confidential” letters were offered through letter brokers—“clearing-houses where patent-medicine frauds and quack doctors exchange, sell, and rent letters,” wrote Samuel Hopkins Adams in Collier’s magazine in 1906. (In effect, he was describing the early mailing list business).

This came to an end, too, but not because anyone objected to the misuse of personal information. In 1906, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, requiring that patent medicine advertisers list their ingredients and not make exaggerated claims. Many firms went out of business.

But the sale and trading of names survived, and it was duly noted—before 1917. In 1913, The Kansas City Star wrote, “It probably does not occur to (the average man) that by buying something by mail he has made his name a commodity in itself and become a target for commercial correspondents as long as he lives and probably long after a tombstone has been erected to him on some grassy hillside.”

 *Richard B. Kielbowicz, Origins of the Junk-Mail Controversy: A
Media Battle over Advertising and Postal Policy, 5(2) JOURNAL OF
POLICY HISTORY 248, 253 (1993).

Click here for a related article.

A Broker’s Education

By Ray Schultz

Painfully shy, so thin he was rejected for insurance policies, Edward W. Proctor did not look like a salesman. But his employer Charles Guild wanted him to sell, so he did, starting around 1903. This took him to outfits like the Swamp Root Co., maker of the Swamp Root kidney and bladder cure, in Binghamton, New York.

What the product was good for? “About one-and-a-half to two million a year,” the founder’s son Willis Sharpe Kilmer replied.

Proctor also visited the D.A. Williams Medical Company, seller of a “uthrethral balm” to Civil War veterans. “Exposure, miasma, bad food, hardships of every description—these and not the bullets are responsible for the extremely rapid death-rate among the veterans,” it said in a direct mail letter.

In short, Proctor was selling mailing lists in the format of the time: Letters from customers. Mailers simply copied the return addresses into ledgers or onto envelopes, noting pertinent information like what diseases the people were suffering from. And he handheld clients and wheedled them into selling Guild their letters for rental. For Guild, a failed advertising agent from Boston, was a letter broker—an early day list broker. However, he didn’t like the business, and was all too willing to dump it on his clerk.

In time, Proctor met rival brokers like Herbert H. Hull, who owned a million letters, and Frank B. Swett, who had even more. They were convivial fellows who cooperated with each other even as they competed and what Proctor couldn’t learn from Guild he learned from them. He commenced his education.

He learned (judging by reports from that time) that the value of a letter decreased as it got older.

He learned that a person who wrote out of curiosity was not as good a prospect as one who knew what he would receive.

He learned that the names of mail order buyers were better than those copied from directories or clipped from newspapers.

He learned, too, that some of the most coveted names were those of sick people rejected for life insurance policies; treatments could be sold to these unfortunates.

More valuable still were those of Lydia Estes Pinkham, of Lynn, Mass. Her Vegetable Compound, an herbal concoction with an 18% alcohol content, was guaranteed to “ease women through the Change of Life, dissolve and expel tumors from the uterus, and cure entirely the worst form of Female Complaints, all Ovarian troubles, Inflammation and Ulceration, Falling and Displacements, and the consequent spinal Weakness.”

Pinkham’s “mild Quaker face” appeared not only on bottles of the compound, but in all circulars and newspaper ads. “Many small newspaper offices possessed no cut of a woman’s face except that of Lydia’s maternal countenance, which occasionally was shifted from an advertising to a news column to do double duty as Queen Victoria,” wrote historian James Harvey Young.

Every ad for the Vegetable Compound invited readers to “Write to Mrs. Pinkham at Lynn, Mass., and she will advise you,” and millions of women did. But Pinkham insisted that the letters were “opened by a woman, read only by a woman, seen only by a woman,” and she wouldn’t rent them—to anyone. “They can’t be bought,” a broker said. “The old girl won’t even answer a letter about them. I don’t know what sort of a plant she has at Lynn and it doesn’t matter much, as her files are worth more than the plant.”

Rubbish, said another; Pinkham’s advertisements are “so wide in their scope…that hardly a woman can read them without feeling that she is a sufferer… they are practically worthless after written.” (Little did they know that Lydia was dead, and had been since 1883—the company was run by her children).

The tone of Proctor’s talks with these brokers (and with Guild) can be inferred from an 1890s newspaper account, in which a young man meets a letter broker on a train.

“I am a dealer in old letters, and am now on my way home with a check for $250 in my pocket which is all velvet,” the broker said. “This check I received for the use, for one month, of 10,000 letters, of which I am the owner.”

The older man was happy to explain the business.

“You, in the course, of your life, have written in reply to some advertisement, asking information in regard to the article advertised, or sent a request for a sample to be forwarded, and enclosed the necessary price, otherwise you have been different from most persons.

“The letters received in answer to such advertisements have a distinct market value among parties who deal in novelties. They are better in every way than lists made up from directories, representing, as they do, interested parties, or, in other words, persons who, attracted by the catchy wording of advertisements will be still more liable to bite after reading lengthy circulars with arguments as to why they should purchase.”

The broker went to his compartment, and returned with samples. “For these letters I pay at the rate of from $30 to $50 per thousand, and thus become the sole proprietor of them,” he said. “I have my customers, to whom I rent them at the uniform price of $50 per thousand for the first month’s use. They find them very valuable in sending out their circulars, and on their return these letters become a part of my stock in trade, being re-let at constantly decreasing prices, according to the number of parties through whose hands they have passed, until they remain marketable for many years at so low a figure as $3 per thousand for 30 day’s use.”

But these were not as valuable as his medical letters.

“I have got a number of hundred thousand of such as these, which we call ‘the blooming sucker variety,’ and for which I pay as high as $75 to $100 per thousand,” the broker continued. “These I let to my medical customers for, say, $125 per thousand for the first thirty days, reducing the price afterward.”

What good were these letters to a patent medicine seller? The broker explained it. “Did you ever go fishing more than once to a pond where you had spent a whole day trying to get a bite? Oh, no, you always go where you have been able to fill your basket before, and it is just the same in fishing for men.”

“Why, my dear boy, some of these medical practitioners in special diseases will not sell their letters for love or money. Why? Because after they have worked the fools under one name for all the money they can get out of them, the doctors then address a letter to the innocents under another name, saying they have learned that he (the patient) had been under the treatment of those unmitigated quacks, giving his former name, and telling why they condoled with him for such a misfortune, and wishing that he could have come under their treatment, which could but prove successful. Nine times out of ten they catch the gudgeon, not only the second, but even the third time.”