GOLDEN YEARS

M ore than any other marketing technique, direct marketing – in terms of how it is done, where it appears, what it is advertising, and who is using it – has evolved in the past decade.

If evidence of this sea-change is needed then one need look no further than the list of gold award winners in the DMA/Royal Mail Direct Marketing Awards. As the dust settles on the most recent DMA/Royal Mail Direct Marketing Awards in which dp&a/Simons Palmer walked off with the top award for its Goldfish credit card campaign, we decided to look back over the past decade and review some of the Gold Awards and reflect how they indicate some of the changes that have taken place within the industry.

In 1985, the gold award went to FCB Direct and its subscription mailing pack for The Field magazine – complete with miniaturised issue. The judges’ general comments were about the potential of inserts as a direct response medium, growth in business-to-business and charity mailings and how “financial institutions such as insurance companies and banks have begun to use direct marketing in earnest over the past three years…”.

On the negative side, however, “travel produced a disappointing number of entries… retail also produced too few entries, especially given that the industry is having to seek ways to boost store traffic”. As for telemarketing: “It was felt that there was no entry which met the standards associated with finalists”.

Fast-forward a decade, and the direct marketing industry has been revolutionised in a way that the judges of 1985 could never have imagined.

During the past 12 years, Britain has seen the launch of the branchless bank, First Direct, the success of tele-insurance company Direct Line, the appearance of upmarket catalogue companies such as Next Directory, Racing Green and Land’s End and the entry to the UK of Daewoo Cars, bypassing dealership chains and selling direct to the public via off the page and DRTV ads.

All the major retail chains have their own database, marketing-driven loyalty schemes and are experimenting with home delivery. Big brand companies have moved into direct marketing, with H J Heinz blazing the trail, and many attribute the Labour Party’s landslide victory on May 1 last year at least in part to its sophisticated use of direct marketing both to raise funds and galvanise its supporters.

Look at the DMA Awards for 1996. The gold award went to Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters – an agency firmly in the above-the-line camp – for its DRTV campaign for Daewoo Cars, while the judges enthused over how “major companies are successfully adopting DM as the foundation for long-term growth” and welcomed “a notable increase in above-the-line entries”.

And according to direct marketing industry stalwart and a DMA Awards judge on a number of occasions, Drayton Bird, the general quality of the entries over the past decade has improved exponentially. Recalling the 1985 Awards, Bird says: “The best of the entries we saw in 1985 were comparable with the best of the entries we would see today – but back then, there was also a tidal wave of dross. Standards have risen enormously since then.”

Marketing Week has chosen five gold award winners over the past 15 years: 1985, 1988, 1991, 1994 and 1996 and attempted to contact as many people who were responsible for those campaigns (both client and agency) to ask them how they think direct marketing has changed since they won, and how they might change things if they had to do the same campaign today.

1985

Client: The Field magazine

Agency: FCB Direct

Copywriter: Chico Kidd

Art director: Chico Kidd

A year is a long time in politics, they say, and by that reckoning, 12 years would seem to be a geological age in direct marketing. Since The Field won the gold award in 1985, the magazine has been sold by then owner The Harmsworth Press to IPC, and the agency which created the campaign – FCB Direct – has ceased to exist, being rolled back into its parent agency.

The whereabouts of Chico Kidd, credited with both copywriting and art direction for the mailing pack, are a mystery which a search through ten years of newspapers and trade magazine computer databases has failed to solve.

Indeed, it took three weeks – and a trawl through the judges – to establish that Kidd was both American and a woman.

Drayton Bird, one of the judges, recalls that The Field’s pack – with its miniaturised version of an actual issue of the magazine – was obviously superior on a number of counts. “The art direction was rather good,” he says, adding that the response rates were also significant. Bird observes: “It’s unusual for somebody to send out an actual publication that gets a good response in terms of subscriptions, because usually it doesn’t live up to the claims you make for it in the letter.”

1988

Client: Next Directory

Agency: Various, plus in-house

Copywriter: Not named

Art director: Bill Petite

Next Directory revolutionised the catalogue industry in the UK, proving that upmarket AB consumers were prepared to buy mail order. And the launch campaign for the Next Directory was a classic example of direct marketing at its best, exceeding the target of 500,000 creditworthy respondents in the first season by 50 per cent. Even more astounding was the fact that a quarter of respondents were male, an unheard of figure for a consumer catalogue – particularly one for which consumers were charged 3 (out of the 9 each pack actually cost to put together). The operation broke even on sales of 25m in its first season.

In the 1988 Awards booklet, the judges enthused about the Next Directory launch, which won not only the Gold Award, but awards for innovation and for the best consumer campaign as well. “Next has changed the image of the catalogue business,” the judges said.

Unfortunately, while people involved with the award winning campaign could be tracked down, none of them are prepared to discuss it. Art director Bill Petite, now creative director of McCann-Erickson Manchester, is working on the GUS account and is unwilling to discuss a rival, while Next itself refused to comment.

1991

Client: Land Rover

Agency: Craik Jones

Copywriter: Pamela Craik

Art director: Chris Jones

In stark contrast to the previous two case studies, the difficulty with the 1991 gold award winner is not getting people to talk about it – it’s getting them to shut up.

The winning campaign was Craik Jones’ first big piece of business after the Ogilvy & Mather Direct breakaway set up, and has been so successful that it is still running now. It was also Rover Group’s second DMA gold award – the company had won the previous year for its Catalyst loyalty-building programme.

The brief was to encourage owners of luxury cars to test-drive and buy the 35,000 Range Rover without the need to resort to discounting. The mail pack succeeded in bringing to life the Range Rover experience, with its unique high off- the-road driving position, through the theme: “Not so much a test drive, more a private view.”

Test drive applications were more than double the expected figure – despite the fact that consumers had to provide their own insurance – and sales exceeded targets by 50 per cent. The mail pack – offering a three-hour unsupervised test drive and a free picnic hamper – performed more than three times better than the one it replaced, and was credited with generating sales worth 17.5m.

Christine French, relationship marketing strategy manager at Rover Group, recalls that direct marketing was still facing an uphill struggle when this campaign was being planned. Rover Group “hadn’t really thought much of direct marketing before. We were struggling to get it accepted internally. Now, it’s proven itself. Before the Private View campaign was launched, we used direct marketing purely tactically: after, DM became a key part of our marketing strategy.”

John Voelkel, planning director of Craik Jones, says the original Private View was “a seminal campaign, both for Land Rover and the agency”. The effect on the client was immense, Voelkel observes. Before the campaign, Land Rover marketers thought direct marketing was “a distress purchase – sales promotion through the post. The view was advertising was about the brand and the thought of putting telephone numbers on ads was considered something that wasn’t done.”

The real point of the Private View idea was to get potential purchasers behind the wheel of a Range Rover, not for five minutes but for at least half an hour, and preferably half a day, Voelkel says. “They had to experience the commanding driving position and the fantastic panoramic view,” he adds, with the fervour of a man who is himself a convert to the Range Rover.

The campaign sold 700 Range Rovers, Voelkel says, and was responsible for a significant shift in consumer attitudes. Before the push, only one in 100 consumers asked to draw up a shortlist of luxury cars they would like to buy put Range Rover on it: after the campaign, the figure was 25 per cent.

1994

Client: American Express

Agency: Ogilvy & Mather Direct (now OgilvyOne) and Merit Direct

Copywriter: Rory Sutherland

Art director: Mike Simm

According to Rory Sutherland, what stands out about this campaign is that it was aimed squarely at retailers who had rejected the American Express card, and that the mailing packs kicked off by highlighting the reasons why.

William Stredwick, now marketing director for American Express Charge Cards, was then marketing manager, retail acceptance. Stredwick remembers: “The one thing that was truly special about it was that we tackled an issue honestly and openly. These people did not take American Express – and we said that on the envelopes. The copy then addressed those points and showed why they were wrong. We not only led on their objections, we reminded them of what they were. It took about two months to convince Amex – but we knew within three weeks of mailing that we were getting a much higher than expected response.”

Stredwick still has some of the mailing packs framed on his office wall – and he says that other American Express executives are still amazed when they see them. “They are still shocked that we should say such things.”

1996

Client: Daewoo Cars

Agency: Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters

Copywriters: Paul Grubb and Brendan Wilkins

Art directors: Dave Waters and Paul Hancock

Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters is, as Paul Grubb says, primarily known as an above-the-line agency – but, he adds, “there’s lots of talk about the line blurring. People are always looking for an integrated agency – but I don’t think that really exists.”

Grubb admits he “wouldn’t be happy doing a mailshot, because I don’t know the market”. But he is happy doing DRTV like the Daewoo campaign. “The requirement was to create response. We didn’t see it as an above-the-line or a below-the-line ad – we saw it as an ad that needed a response.”

Daewoo, of course, has a rather different attitude to DM than many other car companies: it bypasses the traditional car dealership network and sells direct to the consumer.

And this campaign certainly helped do that. Two TV ads ran in January 1996, asking people who had been mistreated by car companies to tell Daewoo about it. More than 72,000 responded and, by the end of March, 55,000 had returned detailed, four-page questionnaires telling Daewoo what they wanted to see both in terms of the car itself, and in terms of the buying process.

As the judges said: “It has set out to achieve something that is quite different: the Listening Car Company.” The approach was “totally the opposite of the normal approach of building a car and trying to flog it.”

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