No Checking Required: An Early Credit Offer From Diners’ Club

By Ray Schultz

It’s hard to picture in this age of instant credit approvals and payment by smartphone. But in 1962, Diners’ Club sent out this offer in a Time magazine envelope without much prior checking:

This invitation is extended to

(Blank for name)

by Mr. Allred Bloomingdale, President

THE DINERS’ CLUB INC.

Your credit standing and financial rating have placed you on the select list of individuals to whom we are limiting the mailing of this invitation for Diners’ Club membership.

We hope you will take a moment to review some of the advantages of membership outlined in this folder and decide to fill out and mail your application today.

The enclosed application is transferable to members of your immediate family or associates sharing your business responsibilities, if you now have a Diners’ Club Credit Card.

Sounds a little loosey-goosey, doesn’t it? But remember: In 1962, Diners’ Club was only 12 years old, and American Express less than half that. Diners’ Club must have assumed that Time magazine readers were good prospects.

Diners’ Club had been introduced In 1950 by Frank X MacNamara for use in restaurants The original plan was to make money by taking 6% off the top of each transaction.

First, Diners’ Club mailed the card unsolicited to several thousand businessmen. The card itself was cardboard, and had the names of its few participating restaurants on the back, wrote Matty Simmons, the press agent for Diner’s Club, and later publisher of the National Lampoon.

In 1962, credit card issuers were mailing their offers to everyone, including, the joke had it, dogs and dead people. That practice of sending out cards unsolicited ended in 1970 when Congress outlawed it.

We don’t know now how Diners’ Club personalized the name on the letter—it may have been by hand, given the technology of that time.

The note was accompanied by a list of institutions that accepted the card in “Canada, British Isles, Europe, Asia, Australia, Arica, South & Central America.”

And there was a brochure proclaiming Diners’ Club as “the newest and mot advanced plastic credit card.”

It said:

Designed for your utmost convenience and honored by thousands of establishments that have been screened for quality and service. These are listed by area in wallet-size directories, which are furnished separately as guides for your additional convenience.

Since this single credit card replaces dozens of individual credit cards you now carry, it actually reduces the bulk of your wallet. In addition, you receive on request Diners’ Club directories covering all international listings and special listings of automotive services, gasoline stations, and repair centers.

Collections were a challenge.

“In addition to cardholders who simply couldn’t pay their bills, credit-card thefts, counterfeiting, and fraud started to escalate,” Simmons wrote. “Thieves, who since the creation of civilization had come up with new ways to rob others of their valuables and their money, now learned how to steal credit cards. They discovered how to falsify their credit applications so they could get their own cards and copy them much like the counterfeiter mattered the art of re-creating twenty-dollar bills.”

Things have improved.

Quality TIME

By Ray Schultz

Time magazine liked to flatter prospects in its direct mail pieces. The message was that only smart people read Time, and that you had to be in that category to even be asked to subscribe. And the flattery must have worked, because it appeared in many forms over the years, sometimes subtly, at other times boldly.

Take this letter sent in the fall of 1955. It was identified in an in-house note, posted over the letter, as a House List Copy Test. The note also included these tidbits:

Pick one Letter

Pick One Envelope

IBM Check Card

JP

78-$6.87

It’s not clear now why this direct mail prospecting test went to the house list—maybe the file was of Life and/or Fortune subscribers—or what the IBM Check Card was.

And we don’t know why someone wrote “’69” on the note. Can we conclude that this test did well, and that the letter was still being mailed in 1969? That’s doubtful, but no matter. Here it is: another engaging piece of direct mail copy from the wordsmiths at Time.

Dear Reader:

 How would you like to be described? Pick one:

 “The kind of person who reads comics.”

 “The kind who reads business papers.”

 “The kind who doesn’t read anything.”

 “The kind who reads whodunits.”

 “The kind who reads TIME.”

 There’s nothing to be ashamed of in any of these characterizations — except the third. But I think that most people, if they had to be described in only one of those ways — would choose the final one.

 Why? Because reading TIME has become a hallmark in the U.S. and throughout the world. It has come to mean that you are ambitious to know more, to earn more, to participate more actively in the “action and passion of our times.”

 Reading TIME means that a man is “constructively discontented” – that he is anti-smug, that he doesn’t think he knows it all, that he is ,in short, young in mind and heart and spirit.

 But how has this come about? Why is this magazine so widely approved and respected?

 Because of the men and women who read TIME.

Because for more than thirty years these readers have been demanding standards so high that TIME has had to keep getting better and better.

Because these readers have shown their loyalty to TIME in the most eloquent possible way – by renewing their subscriptions year after year after year.

And finally, because of who these readers are. TIME’s subscribers are leaders of business, the professions and government. They are people active in clubs and civic organizations, people who travel a great deal, people of influence.

When you become a TIME reader, you join, for example:

 –leading architects, who vote TIME their first-choice magazine … top engineers – who say TIME is their favorite publication … college deans who vote TIME their favorite magazine. And you join the most valued executive customers of U.S. industries – who say Time is the magazine they consider most important.

In short, wherever you find a group of men or women remarkable for high standards of achievement, TIME turns out to be the magazine they prefer.

You should be reading it too.

 Cordially,

Bernhard M. Auer

Circulation Director

P.S. The enclosed card offers you a special rate on an introductory subscription to TIME. If mailed at once, it can bring you TIME for less than nine cents a week delivered to your door.

The Girl With the Guys

By Ray Schultz

Of all the writers I’ve known in direct marketing, none was more talented and charming than Joan Throckmorton.

Joan, who died in 2003, was a brilliant direct mail copywriter, and a prolific author and speaker. But she was also a gracious woman, with a certain wry reserve.

She was born in Evanston Hospital, something she had in common with the DM legend Bob Stone, and grew up in Florida. She arrived in New York in the early 1950s, and was hired by Doubleday, because friends and former classmates worked there. Her first assignment was in the art department.

“My job was literally to do character counts on new books, and all the scut work, and also to work with some of our illustrators and artists,” she said in an interview in her home in Pound Ridge, NY in 1997.

She particularly recalled one young artist who would hand her a drawing and say, “Joan, I drew you this butterfly.” After she had thanked him and he’d left, she’d promptly discard it.

He was Andy Warhol. “If I had kept some of those butterflies, I would be in a lot better financial position today,” Joan laughed. Another artist was Ted Gorey, whose ghoulish Victorian drawings later made him famous.

Eventually, Joan moved on. “Because I was a writer and an English major who wanted to write, I was allowed to go downstairs to what they called Sherman’s Alley. Charley Book Club Sherman ran the Doubleday Book Club promotions. He was known throughout the company as a vociferous, harsh, cookie-scary boss, but maybe he had a heart of gold, and I rather thought he did.”

Joan worked on club mailings. “I was Mystery Guild and Catholic Book Club. I did a few Literary Guilds here and there. Literary Guild was, as always, a high-end club. We worked with the editors, and that’s how I started to write, mostly with the thrillers., where you do sort of a film trailer or preview, the monthly club announcement. That was my introduction to direct mail.”

Most book club prospecting was done in space ads at that time. But there were also monthly selection mailings. “The package consisted of pretty much what it consists of now: a plain white out envelope identifying the club,” Joan said. “Sometimes it may have had copy lines, very simple lines, club announcements and not a series of flyers. We had a small list of many fewer books, alternate selections, that we changed and updated. Today we have many more.”

She continued that the prevailing wisdom then was that the information age was on its way, “the information age when people would be given more to read about, more data input than they could handle, due to new electronic methodologies, one of which was the photo facsimile of newspapers, not to mention the purple-inked Xerox machine.”

Making Your Own Clothes

Work aside, Joan’s early life in New York was right out of My Sister Eileen.

“I started at Doubleday at $55 a week, and we got an extra bonus at Christmas of about $20, with taxes taken out,” Joan said. “That was it. Now how did you live in those days? You lived like they’re living today—two and three people in an apartment. No real privacy. Once a week, you would go out to dinner with a friend when you didn’t have a date, and you’d have a nice meal at a modestly priced restaurant. If you had a date (the women never paid in those days0 you might go to a modestly priced little French restaurant, or to a Third Ave. bar and hang out with your mixed groups of friends. And we had lots of parties. But nobody had any money.”

In contrast to women with their $55 salaries, men started at $65 to $70 a week—not bad money at the time, Joan said. “We’re talking in weekly terms,” she added. “Nobody could understand anything more than that.”

On those tight budgets, young working women usually made their own clothes. “We sewed—we either rented or one of us had a sewing machine,” Joan remembered. “We made clothes so we’d look decent in the office.”

But Joan was a talented writer, and she jumped around, even though she was advised against it. “They’d say, ‘Why would you want to leave? You’re doing well.’”

Joan noted, though, that “we had quite a hard time for women to get promoted, so I went over to Time Inc. and applied for a job to Life Promotions. And there I worked with Bill Herringbone, and the publisher, a young guy named Andy Heiskell. Wendell Forbes was down the hall, and Bob Fisler was over in Time, and we all knew each other. Later, I became Andy Heiskell’s assistant. And I moved to being promotion director for Sports Illustrated when Bob Fisler left that book.”

Sports Illustrated was a daring start-up for the time. “In those days, they said sports was tennis and golf. It wasn’t. Tex Maule was there early, and we were doing a lot more cogent advertising. But there was no professional basketball. Pro football was just getting started, and I was dating one of the guys on CBS, so I got to know all of the New York Giants football team, which was nice for a young gal working for Sports Illustrated. It was really wild and crazy—Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote, the whole bunch.

As copywriter, Joan also worked on the first Life book—The Life Cookbook. “By today’s standards, it was a pretty antiquated-looking book, but it was a life-sized book and I did the promotions for it,” Joan said.

Time Inc was a fun place to work. “Two weeks wouldn’t go by without some floor party—a big birthday party,” she went on. “Ad salesmen met at the 3G’s across the street at 5:30, and drink, drink, drink. There were people falling down elevator shafts, being caught in embarrassing positions,” she laughed.

It was easy to party: The work day went from 9 to 5, and maybe they’d stay until 5:30 or 6 when busy. There was no weekend work.

Joan’s next stop was American Heritage, where her sometime boss at Time was now in residence: Frank Johnson.

“Frank was quite a character, not a ladies’ man, a wonderful guy,” she said. “A perfectionist, a tough guy, and Bill Jayme was writing for us, too. Jayme and Frank were very close. And Frank was a good red pencilier, on anybody’s copy. Tough, tough guy to work with.”

Later, Joan worked for Time Life Books and later on Look magazine at Cowles. “That’s where I got to know Pat Carbine and that group—the Ms. Magazine group,” she said.

Finally, Joan went out on her own and had an illustrious freelance career, writing thousands of effective packages, columns for DM News and Direct and books.

I richly enjoyed our interview in ’97. We sat in her home office, a small room with a desk and computer, a zebra painting on the wall, and large stacks of catalogs. Joan’s husband Sheldon Satin, a customer service consultant, was at work in the office next door. You could see the autumn foliage outside the window.

In the end, Joan had mixed feelings about some of her experiences–for example, Andy Heiskell’s birthday dinner at age 80, thrown by the Time Life Alumni Society. Heiskell had been chairman of Time for 30 years.

Joan felt a certain loyalty, but “they were all tall men in Navy blue blazers,” she recalled. “Just wasps—no blacks, no Jews. All the women had lovely little dresses on, and they were all wives. I thought: All the good and bad things rolled up into one.”