PCH, AMERICAN FAMILY PUT NEW STAMP ON PRIZE ADS;CAMPAIGNS AIM TO HIKE RESPONSE RATES FOR THEIR SWEEPSTAKES

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The two major stamp-sheet houses for magazine subscriptions are hoping new ad campaigns stop the tailspin that began last year and boost response rates to their multimillion-dollar sweepstakes offers, now in the mail.

"It's a concern whenever business softens," said David Sayer, executive director-advertising and public relations for Publishers Clearing House. "We're doing our ultimate to keep the campaigns fresh."

LOOKING AT THE LOSERS

While the prize winners will receive checks and publicity, magazine publishers will be a lot more interested in the actions of the losers. That's because the late December/January mailings are the biggest efforts of the year by the stamp-sheet houses and ultimately could play a major role in how magazines set the rate bases they guarantee to advertisers. Most magazine publishers rely on them for anywhere from 20% to 40% of total paid subscriptions.

The midyear-1995 mailings for both PCH and archrival American Family Publishers, saw responses fall off by more than 20%, according to one survey. The drop created headaches for magazine circulation marketers, already under pressure from a decadelong decline in newsstand sales and repeated paper price hikes.

To counter last year's woes, PCH is once again trying to build excitement by highlighting its $10 million grand prize to be awarded live on NBC as part of the postgame Super Bowl show Jan. 28. The actual winner will be drawn early next week and kept under wraps until the Prize Patrol knocks on the recipient's door.

Most of this year's advertising-including a first-ever print ad that appeared in Parade and 13 spots-ties into the Super Bowl theme. PCH paid a licensing fee to NFL Properties to use the name.

RESPONSE IS KEY

"It's all designed to heighten response," Mr. Sayer said.

The production was done in-house based on creative by Deutsch, New York, with media placement by Ogilvy & Mather.

This year's ads try to attract more young-adult participants.

As happened last year, the prize winner will be captured live in a 30-second spot during NBC's Super Bowl postgame show.

"We're hoping for a tight game that will keep people glued to the television set," Mr. Sayer said.

American Family Publishers isn't standing idly by. It kicked in an extra $1 million this year, making its grand prize worth $11 million, an all-time record for a stamp-sheet contest. TV spots starring Ed McMahon and Dick Clark tout the record award; the ads were created in-house.

In the direct-mail business, there are a wide variety of intangibles. Dan Capell, a partner at Vos Gruppo & Capell and editor of the newsletter Capell's Circulation Report, noted the blizzard of '96 affected up to 40 million households, and will probably slow response rates.

"I think it will be Feb. 1 before they really begin to know how their mailings did," he said.

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