Their Best Offer Yet! Only $11.72 a Minute to Swim With the Dolphins

Vacation should be uncomplicated. There should be an "easy" button next to every decision you have to make.

So how complicated should choices – or, in direct-response parlance, offers – be for a tourist?

In American culture, the offer must be simple to succeed in selling. And if there must be options, the number of options should be quickly narrowed down.

I like two or three choices, max. Things like:

  • Good Value, Best Value
  • Good, Better, Best
  • Yes, No, Maybe
  • Add-ons for a few bucks

These are proven to work. But apparently this concept hasn't been introduced south of the U.S. border.

The first morning of our vacation in Mexico, my wife and two daughters talked with David, a tour salesperson, about swimming with dolphins. We were in Tulum, about 75 minutes south of Cancun, a tropical paradise.

David told us a trip to the dolphins can be done on its own or combined with other tours.

There were six potential locations nearby.

We could choose to spend 30 minutes, 45 minutes, or 60 minutes with the dolphins.

We could, for an extra fee, spend time with sea lions and manatees in addition to the dolphins.

I asked David to write our options on paper. He obliged. But my head started to spin. The prices he quoted were $89, $99, $139, and $149. Per person. For up to an hour.

I turned to my wife and asked her if she understood his notes on what seemed to be a zillion options. She said yes. But she really meant no, and I could tell. That's when we got up and left and said we'd come back another day.

So this got me to thinking how Mexican tour operators might sell more tours if they would just make the decision-making process easier. After all, in direct response we know that the easier the offer is to comprehend, the more likely it is that we make the sale.

After writing and overseeing around 100 million pieces of mail over the years, here is my short list of what has worked when you must make multiple offers:

  1. Good and Great

    For an insurance client of mine, the current long-standing control has two offers. We positioned one as "a good value" and the higher-cost offer as "a great value." It's been highly successful. (The complete package beat a long-standing control by 60%.)

    I've done the same thing for a publishing client with a one-year vs. two-year subscription, where with the two-year subscription was virtually free because of gift cards for food and drinks that the subscriber received.

    Bottom line: Name each offer – e.g., "good" or "great" – and show them why "great" is better than "good."

  2. Good, Better, Best

    I like three choices. So for that same insurance client, we tested three benefit amounts and called the lowest "good," the middle amount "better," and the highest benefit (with a lower cost per thousand of insurance) "best." Response increased about 15% over the "good" and "great" offers.

    Bottom line: Most consumers migrate to "best" offers, so don't be afraid to position (and deliver) one.

  3. Bundling

    A food-by-mail client wanted to sell more coffee. For a few years, we simply offered the coffee as a standalone product. But then, one holiday season we said "Duh. Why aren't we bundling it with the desserts?" Buy a cake for one price by itself, or add coffee for just $9.95.

    As a gift, the coffee was far more impressive. Nearly 5% of customers added a package to their order.

    Bottom line: Bundle small, seemingly inexpensive, items with a larger item and watch your average order grow.

  4. Yes, No, or Maybe

    I first used this type of offer about 20 years ago when I managed a children's book club. A "yes" response meant the customers were committing themselves (but they could still return the books and cancel at any time).

    We really didn't want those saying "no" to respond, but having "no" as an option was essential to the entire proposition. It was the "maybes" that put us in the win column to beat the control. "Maybe" was, in effect, "yes" because the responder could return the books and cancel at any time. It was a way for the responder (usually the mother) to feel that she wasn't definitely committing and that she "might" cancel.

    Bottom line: If you can craft your offer so "maybe" is the same as "yes," you can capture those who needed a little extra reassurance to make a decision.

  5. Green, Red, Yellow

    I add this one to the "yes, no, maybe" offer as a way to visually tie in the offer and add involvement. In this case, what could be more obvious for a children's book club than a traffic light with green, red, and yellow stickers? So that's what we did.

    Bottom line: Stickers are great involvement devices for adults and children. It requires physical action to use them. And we're conditioned to know that green means go, red means stop, and yellow gets our attention.

As for our dolphin tour purchase experience, I suspect the Mexicans really do know what they're doing – that total confusion can work.

You see, when we spend money to get somewhere for a vacation … who wants to take less than the complete tour? And since most of us think that the most expensive price means it's for the best product or experience … well, what the heck. It's only money.

And I gotta give it to those tour operators. They know how to upsell.

Photos were extra. (No cameras were allowed.) We bought one photo of each daughter as they got their kiss from the dolphin. And we had to have the photo of the four of us, with dolphins jumping overhead. And we had to have the DVD (priceless seeing my 6'8" body jettison through the water with two dolphins pushing me).

So the total for the one-hour experience? $703 (plus tips). Now, if David would have just said at the very beginning that it would cost less than $12 a minute …

[Editor’s Note: Gary Hennerberg began his career in direct marketing as a product marketing manager overseeing marketing, analytics, product development, creative, printing and more. He now uses his unique blend of analytic and creative experience to write sales generating copy that reaches millions of households worldwide. Hennerberg has worked with over 100 consumer, business-to-business and non-profit organizations. You can reach him at]

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Published: September 17, 2007

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