I should have known Seth Godin would have a good answer to my credit-card mystery:
So, I think it’s stupid, but they’re not stupid, they’re just jerks.
The reason direct marketers do this is because in fact, the marginal profit from a new sign up is so insanely high ($300) that they can quite happily mail someone 200 times (that’s once a week for four years) if it’s likely to work.
And yes, it does. Consumers are dolts sometimes.
And we’re good at rationalizing.
Another reader pointed out that it’s important to Be There when the buying situation arises. That is, Citi/AA want to make sure that, at the very moment when I’ve gotten fed up with Amex or Discover, then POOF, their solicitation arrives, and they’ve got me.
I’d still love to hear about the conversion patterns in the data if anyone can speak to that. (i.e., how much more likely am I to apply for the card on my 3rd mailer than my 178th mailer?)