There's Sense In DM

Issue 4 | September 2007

Sir John Hegarty has said that the copywriter is dead. Modern communications is non-verbal. And he may well have a point. Professor Robert Heath's research into low-level processing suggests that consumers register advertising images sub-consciously and are influenced by them literally at the back of their minds.

At the same time, Will Collin, founding partner of Naked, quotes CIA MediaLab research in Advertising Works and How, writing that in today's fragmented media landscape, 'only 45% of message takeout is attributable to its content, while its context (i.e. the medium) accounts for the majority of the rest. A great idea served up to the consumer at the wrong time when he or she isn't willing to take notice will be less successful than a weaker idea that is presented at an opportune and relevant moment.'

The eyes have it

Trouble is, both Hegarty and Collin are talking about TV. And telly, by and large, engages only two of our five senses, sight and sound.

I see a quarter of a million brightly coloured balls bounce down a San Francisco street and I hear lilting music and the two combine to leave a lasting impression. But it's not a very intimate experience. Sony aren't able to capture my imagination in their 'Balls' commercial. Rather they capture my admiration, which, I would argue, is altogether less engaging.

Of course, you see before you read, so the appearance of any pack or mailer is as important as the look of any TV ad. The colours you choose, the typeface you use. If you're selling a premium product, it behoves you to set your type carefully. If you let the Mac do the job for you, the eye can always tell. The type stretches on some lines, is concertina'd on others. Ugh. Your copy may say 'expensive and desirable' but the message is 'scruffy and exploitative'.

Personally, I mourn the passing of the typographer. A good one could make an ordinary writer look pretty good too.

Touch me

The best writers have always known how very personal the written word can be. They are able to create more powerful visions in the minds of their readers than any photographer can.

How many films of the book have you seen that have disappointed you because the director simply couldn't capture on celluloid what you had seen with your mind's eye?

When it comes to writing for direct marketing, there is little you can't do. Quite simply, you can engage all five of the senses if you want to and if it's appropriate.

Of course, any piece of direct mail is tactile in as much as you pick up and feel an envelope. The rough texture of a brown envelope from Christian Aid, for instance, communicates as clearly as the contents of the letter. Not a penny wasted on unneccessaries. All your money to the cause.

But some direct marketing actively engages your sense of touch to make the message more memorable. Take M&C Saatchi's postcard for the Sydney Dogs & Cats Home, featured in Directory Issue 1. One side of the card comprised incredibly silky fur-like nylon, which was impossible not to stroke. 'It feels even better when it's a real cat', read the copy on the other side.

Zoo Safari's poster from DDB Brasil is also extraordinary to the touch. It feels like the skin of an animal. Thus you are transported through your fingertips to an experience of what it must be like at the zoo itself. It brings you closer to a giraffe than any photo ever could.

When Tribal DDB Germany wanted their core target audience to experience the tingle of excitement you get when you drive a new Golf R30 they could just have written about it. Instead they tried to give the experience itself, mailing out a 'tingler'. This bizarre implement actually works! In fact, Jamie Madge sat in our editorial meeting tingling his scalp for a strangely long time.

Touch doesn't have to be all about (sometimes) costly 3D mailings. Heat-sensitive paper has always interested me. Rapp Collins Canada has recently run a mailing for Knorr Frozen Dinners based on the idea that 'Frozen doesn't have to be a bad word'. The headline read, 'F_ _ _ _ N delicious' and customers were instructed to put the leaflet in their freezer to reveal the full message.

The best use I've ever seen of it, however, was in a leaflet to chefs for the Food Standards Association. The headline read, 'This is how easily you could be spreading the germs that cause food poisoning.' The moment you move your fingers on the paper, revealed by their heat are the bacteria that can cause sickness. A worthy award-winner, that, for BMP DDB.

DM with taste

As a kid I can remember seeing countless examples of edible letters. Remember all those spies who were ordered to 'Eat these instructions after you have read them'?

As well as letters written on leather (for Mercedes) or on rubber (for the VW Golf) there have also been letters written on rice paper.

Sending out nice things to eat and drink can help underscore a simple point. For instance, Craik Jones sent out a bag of sweeties to all those on the First Direct database who were still thinking about switching their bank accounts. 'Something to help you chew it over', they wrote in the letter.

ZVV sent out a box of chocs to emphasise that when employers help pay for their employees' travel costs, 'everyone gets a bonus'.

My favourite example of edible direct marketing, though, is the brilliant 'Finding Nemo' idea from Saatchi & Saatchi in New Zealand. They wanted to encourage media buyers to book airtime in the commercial breaks when the film was first aired on TV. What they did was hand deliver them some sushi one lunchtime. Eating Nemo - what a powerful way to remind you of the forthcoming movie.

What about DM you can drink?

Plenty of bottles get mailed out at Christmas with 'Cheers from...' messages attached, though TBWA\Whybin & TEQUILA\ Auckland played a slightly different game when they sent their clients an empty bottle. 'We've given the money to charity', they explained.

Publicis Zurich had a similarly cheeky idea for their client Flash Delivery Services. They used another delivery company to deliver company executives a broken bottle of champagne. A card read, 'If youíd used Flash this would never have happened.'

More chillingly, when Harrison Troughton Wunderman wanted to get journalists to write about the dangers for pregnant mothers of drinking any alcohol at all for their client FAS Aware UK, they sent them a bottle of tequila. Only, instead of a mescal worm at the bottom of the bottle there was a tiny foetus.

Not to be sniffed at

The fifth sense is smell. Skoda's agency archibald ingall stretton have been mailing out mirror-danglers which smell of chocolate fudge, tying in with the TV, which shows a Fabia being made out of cake and icing by a team of chefs.

It smells so nice, it makes you want to eat it. Not advisable.

When OgilvyOne wanted to make a point about how fast the Royal Mail can be, they posted out flowers, which arrived fresh and sweet-smelling.

Albany in Brazil wafted the smell of soap through the cinema while their commercial was being shown.

Less pleasant to the nose was Saatchi & Saatchi's scratch and sniff ad for St. Mungo's, a charity that cares for homeless people in London. Looking like an ad for a swanky perfume, the scratch and sniff strip actually smelled of urine. Copy, under a flap, explained that when you're homeless, eating and sleeping take priority over how you smell.

If the (chemically created) smell of freshly baked bread can get shoppers piling into the supermarket, couldn't the same smell be used to help build loyalty? The Tesco Clubcard mailing, for instance. Wouldn't it be great if the gentle perfume of a soft white batch wafted out across the kitchen as you opened up your quarterly statement?

From ear to ear

Last of the senses is sound. And I suppose there is always the rip and the rustle of paper as you open an envelope and peruse the offer within.

I once created a mailing that used that birthday card technology. Open the card and it activates the little chip inside and plays Happy Birthday. In this instance, many of the chips malfunctioned and wouldn't stop playing. It really got up people's noses, if you'll excuse the mixed metaphor.

A rather more successful mailing for Barclays recently saw agency WWAV Rapp Collins send out iPods to a squad of top-brass. The idea is to get them to accept invitations to Rugby World Cup matches this autumn. And on the iPod they had the rugby legend Gareth Edwards talking to them from the middle of the pitch at the Stade de France, explaining what it's like to run out in front of a crowd of 80,000.

How do you get potential clients to listen to your sales pitch when they ignore all the usual approaches? One agency mailed each of its target group a telephone, which GPS activated the moment the pack was opened. While it was in the client's hands, it rang.

'Hello, Mr. Williams. Now, about your direct marketing...'

It worked too.

The point is that you have more ways to engage than you do in traditional advertising. It's not just through telling simple stories well but in appealing to the senses. If media is as much about moment as it is about placement, then in an engaging piece of direct marketing you should be achieving 100% message takeout every time.

One more reason why DM grows at the expense of TV.

About 15 years ago, the poster contractors ran a press ad with the headline, 'Long live the insane art director', showing the sort of special builds that were possible even then. The great thing about DM is that it gives the writer as many opportunities to be just as bonkers.

Patrick Collister

Editorial Director

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