Pushing the envelope

With consumers increasingly immune to direct mail techniques, making your campaign stand out from the crowd calls for creativity and an awareness of the latest print technologies. By David Reed

With consumers increasingly immune to direct mail techniques, making your campaign stand out from the crowd calls for creativity and an awareness of the latest print technologies. By David Reed

Suppose you are working on a direct marketing campaign for a personal loan. You know that most people use the money to pay off credit cards. But you’d like to encourage them to think about doing something more fun, like taking a dream holiday.

The idea you find to encapsulate this positioning is: “The loan that puts a smile on your face.” Now wouldn’t it be great if you could express this in some physical form?

One way to do it would be to send out a mailshot including a face mask showing a big grin – well, one paper engineering supplier has recently been touring agencies demonstrating exactly this type of printed and die-cut image. Whether this example will ever make it into a direct mail envelope depends on a wide range of factors.

“Suppliers bring in all these things, any single one of which can make the difference,” says Patrick Baglee, creative director at EHS Brann London. “Even if it doesn’t happen for a year, you know something is there, and you look for an opportunity to consider it.”

Lost skills

Baglee’s agency is unusual in having retained its print and production specialists when many others have stripped out this layer of expertise. Although these skills can look unnecessary and expensive, often it is only when they’re gone that their true value is appreciated.

“The challenge is about building a bridge between us and suppliers to really understand how to use a new process,” says Baglee. The agency’s in-house unit is able to take time to understand new techniques and even have dummy items prepared. Where an agency is just relying on the supplier to make the case, problems can sometimes arise when putting work into production.

What Baglee stresses, however, is that innovation for its own sake is unlikely to get client approval. “If you put a new technique onto a piece of work that is critical for their company, it can cause problems,” he says.

Heather Westgate, managing director of TDA, fears that the historical three-way dialogue between client, agency and supplier is being cut back. “Too often, printers only talk with client-side in-house print teams about updates in processes and capabilities,” she says.

“Yet for the benefit of both industries, agencies and printers need to find ways of working together to ensure that agencies are also kept up to speed,” Westgate adds.

In her view, it is vital that creatives are aware of new print possibilities because these can some- times trigger an idea. Just coming up with a concept and then trying to work out how to reproduce it cost-effectively can result in the creative solution being rejected on cost grounds, but with little time left in the schedule to work out a new approach.

Simon Collins, director of print solutions at Logistix, has long-term experience as a print supplier to Reader’s Digest Association. “It is one of the best organised direct mail companies. We’ve come up with a lot of ideas for them, like peel-off stickers, decoders and metal things that fit into slots,” he says. Many of its mailshots involve complex, multi-component print that keeps recipients involved for several minutes.

When an idea and its execution fit together neatly, it can produce work that is memorable as well as powerful, something that is not often true of direct mail. Target Direct Print achieved that unity of idea and execution in a mailing for the Central Office of Information.

“We developed a technology for an anti-smoking campaign, where we formulated a glue that had the consistency of fatty deposits caused by smoking. The result was a direct response piece that contained a very graphic demonstration of the effects of smoking,” says Barney Hosey, client services director at Target Direct Print.

A quick scan of the Direct Marketing Association Awards shows that such distinctive ideas are quite rare. Part of the reason for the sameness of much direct mail is down to volume. It is hard to achieve the necessary price point for large mailings when using complex techniques.

Speak to me

Paper engineering has enlivened many mailpacks, using special inks that reveal words when subjected to heat or cold, pop-ups and noisemakers through to complex folded boxes. The next step might even be mailshots that speak to the recipient, using electronics that are activated when the mailer is opened.

When a new technique comes on stream that has wide relevance and is also cost-effective, it often sweeps through the direct mail industry. It is not uncommon to find many mailings using the same idea, such as the charity manila envelope with pen inside, or items that look like an official mailing.

It is a fine line between an innovative print idea that adds extra interest and involvement, and a pack that screams “junk mail”. Consumers quickly pick up on new ideas that are being used for marketing. That does not mean they don’t respond to them when they are good. But it does mean they soon tire of over-used ideas.â¢

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