The Law of Reciprocity and Direct Mailing Campaigns

Intro: Online Video Ads and the Law of Reciprocity

Back in March 2009, we reviewed that video ads are a savvy strategy for marketers because the number of online video viewed has been steadily growing, as reported by eMarketer, and has a high click-through rate when compared to its alternatives. We found that the success of online video ads  lies in the law of reciprocity.

The law of reciprocity by Robert Cialdini, in his book, Influence: Science and Practice (New York: Harper Collins, 1993).  Basically, the law of reciprocity boils down to this:  “a person can trigger a feeling of indebtedness by doing us an uninvited favor”.

Online video ads are a form of entertainment and people are willing to be entertained.  An IBM study reveals that almost 60% of its study respondents said they were willing to provide to advertisers some personal information about themselves in exchange for something of value, such as access to high-quality music videos, store discounts or airline frequent-flyer points.

Therefore, the success of online video ads lies in the law of reciprocity.

The Law of Reciprocity and Direct Mailing



Recently I received a set of of bag tags from Conde Nast Traveler.

They are bright, sturdy and would make it easier for me to identify my bags at the bag pickup.

Yeah, they would be useful.

This is a perfect example of the law reciprocity.

Conde Nast Traveler sends me some bag tags…and a request to sign up for their magazine!

However, the old trick of the free gift is not new at all.

Consider this example from Cialdini (p. 29):

For instance, the American Disabled Veterans organization reports that its simple mail appeal for donations produces a response rate of about 18 percent.  But when the mailing also includes an unsolicited gift  (gummed, individualized address labels), the success rate nearly doubles to 35 percent.

However, that was then.

Nowadays, direct mailers need to ante up! Conde Nast Traveler definitely has.

Take a look at this:


Apparently this deal is not only good but it’s a steal!

See everything that I get for…FREE!


You might think that good old direct mailing does not work but it still has a very high conversion rate.

Don’t believe so?

Direct Mailing: the Google Way!

adwords newsletter
Adwords Newsletter from Google

Google AdWords jumps into the law of reciprocity bandwagon.

The unsolicited gift comes in the form of a 6 page newsletter (printed in very high quality paper) full of insights about how to optimize your Google AdWords campaign.

Therefore, Google is betting that the success that the law of reciprocity has provided to both direct mailing and online video ad campaigns rubs off into the amount of money that people spend on Google Adwords.

Author: Damian Davila

Ideas and concepts from Damian Davila, Ecuatoriano thriving in Hawaii. Pro marketer and blogger. Find him at @idaconcpts on Twitter.

One thought on “The Law of Reciprocity and Direct Mailing Campaigns”

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