What’s the difference between these two images?

Ramit Sethi

Look closely.

My friend got both of these offers mailed to him recently.

Mastercard offer 1
* * *
Mastercard offer 2
(Click to see larger photos.)

Notice the different offers, the different designs, even the salutation “Dear ___.” This is how real marketing is done–not by handwavy marketers saying “I think red is better!” but by actual, rigorous data analysis.

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Many sophisticated web sites use split tests to see what really works. For example, when you’re browsing Amazon, you’re often in an experimental group to see what page elements produce more clicks, purchases, or other target behaviors. Just recently, for example, I saw first-hand evidence of how changing an email’s subject line can produce a staggering difference in response rates (over 400%). Although the concept originates in direct marketing, you rarely see split tests offline because you usually only see one version of the test. My friend just happened to receive two different copies of the same mailing, although there are probably dozens more.

Does it make you queasy to think that the next email you get from JCrew or the next time you visit, it’s probably been tested against thousands of other people? Maybe. But I’d rather have a company optimizing reasonable offers by adjusting positioning, visual design, etc than by making opportunistic sales pitches to people who don’t know any better.

Somehow this became marketing + ethics day, but I just thought it was interesting.

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  1. Yan

    A very interesting observation. Bloggers experiment with ads layout all the time. This is really marketing taken to extreme…

  2. Anita

    I can never tell the difference between any of them, which is why I just ignore any marketing materials I receive.

  3. Fashion Industry Ceo

    they have different apr rates!

  4. Nagel

    I am not the least surprised by this. This is typical of large companies–especially credit card companies (or should I say loan sharks).

  5. bleh

    And they put a 0 after the 3.9 to make it look better..

  6. Little Sean

    Which one is supposed to be better? They look about the same to me.

  7. Marcus

    I wonder if I get sent split test credit card applications in the mail. Since I immediately rip them up, I wouldn’t know.

    What I’d really like to know is whether Visa is really better than Discover.