What are package inserts and how do they differ from direct mail?

Both are forms of offline marketing, but they differ in many ways, from cost to targeting to creative format.

If you want to read an interview we did with Marketing Brew, the largest email newsletter covering the marketing industry, on this exact topic, read more here.  Since that was a few years ago, check out our updated take below.

Whenever I explain to people what Incremental Media does, I always get the same reaction.  “Oh I always get those in my [Tovala, Gilt, Zulily, HelloFresh, Macy’s, etc.] packages”. Marketers generally get the concept, and inserts are growing rapidly, but very few people know how to test or scale the channel.  

So, what actually are inserts?

Insert media is when you insert printed ads into formats like packages. The package insert is probably most popular, but there are plenty of other formats of inserts, from things called catalog blow-ins to billing statements (yes… people do still get those 😊) to much more, but at its most basic level, an insert is when a brand inserts into another brand’s packages.  There are about a half dozen companies that print, ship and insert into 90%+ of the package inserts that exist in the industry, so find one of those companies (like the one who wrote this article!) and they can help you navigate the insert media industry.  

From a creative standpoint, the insert probably looks something like this for a direct-to-consumer brand:

Why inserts > direct mail?

The main appeal of inserts is simple: Direct mail is expensive and it gets more expensive every year when the USPS has 2-3 postage increases per year. That means getting a piece of mail into someone’s hands can cost $0.50 or much more depending on what you are mailing them. Inserts are way cheaper, usually anywhere from $0.04 to $0.08 including printing, and you can still get a large piece of mail into someone’s hands via a vehicle like a package.  

Now direct mail does have targeting capabilities that far surpass inserts, but that targeting better be pretty amazing to get a 400-800%+ higher response rate.  We’ve actually gone in insert programs and then also rented mailing lists from those same insert programs and mailed their customer file, and inserts far exceeded performance for one simple reason: Cost.

Do inserts make sense for my brand?

Generally speaking, inserts are best for brands who are a considered purchase. That means your average order value is at least $100, or you are a subscription service so your lifetime value exceeds $100.  A $19.95 neck massager that has 100 copycats on Amazon just isn’t expensive enough or differentiated enough for inserts.  

Products or services that are widely applicable, like a food subscription, health and wellness products, investment offerings, general merchandise retailers, and home decor usually do best in inserts because the very narrow targeting that direct mail offers usually wouldn’t be very valuable for them anyways.  

So, even though package inserts are discussed way less by marketers than direct mail in offline marketing, they are often the more effective solution, as long as your brand checks the boxes of what works best in the channel...  

Eric Smith is the SVP of Growth at Incremental Media. Want to share your thoughts or pick the brain of the author of this piece? Email Eric Smith at esmith@incrementalmedia.com.

Let’s talk.

Come experience the IM difference.

✅ Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.