Hotel Chocolat’s catalogue revealed as most effective Christmas direct mail

The chocolatier’s catalogue scored in the top 2% of all UK ads on persuasiveness, while also proving its ability to drive long-term brand building, according to the latest data from Kantar.

Few ads have the persuasive power to immediately tempt you towards a purchase, but according to new data, Hotel Chocolat’s hunger-inducing Christmas catalogue is one such ad.

The catalogue has been revealed as the most creatively effective piece of direct mail over December, ranked in accordance with public response. According to Kantar’s ‘The Works’ study, the ad has the power to drive both long- and short-term results.

Described by some as the “Argos catalogue for adults”, Hotel Chocolat’s festive edition aimed to appeal specifically to its existing customers. The eight-page booklet showcases a range of the retailer’s products under the tagline ‘Show them you know them’, with an offer code on the back cover.

An accompanying leaflet with a focus on new customer acquisition ran as an insert in newspapers and magazines.

Direct mail is a particularly useful channel for Hotel Chocolat during “key chocolate seasons” such as Christmas and Easter, Lynne Ormrod, the brand’s director of marketing, tells Marketing Week.

We can use direct mail to actually bring the brand directly into people’s homes and to reach beyond digital channels.

Lynne Ormrod, Hotel Chocolat

Indeed, according to Kantar’s head of creative effectiveness, Lynne Deason, the “first thing” that comes to mind when marketers think about direct mail is often its ability to deliver against a call to action.

Hotel Chocolat’s catalogue demonstrates this “perfectly”, she says, scoring in the top 2% of all UK ads on its level of persuasion. And as Kantar’s study reveals, this translated into strong intention among users to purchase from the brand.

Produced in association with Marketing Week and the Advertising Association’s Trust Working Group, ‘The Works’ study asked 750 consumers what they thought of five of December’s top direct mail ads – 150 consumers per advert.

Some 44% of participants said they would use the coupon in the Hotel Chocolat catalogue, rising to 90% among existing customers. Almost half (45%) said they would visit the brand’s website (rising to 95% among customers) and 37% said they would visit a Hotel Chocolat store (rising to 90%).

More than a third (37%) said they would talk to their friends and family about the brand, again rising to 90% among customers.

Eye-tracking technology reveals the particular “attention drawing power” of the money-off coupon, Deason says, as pictured below.

The ad also scored in the top 15% of all UK ads on distinctiveness, and in the top 26% for likeability. Almost two in five people said they would “immediately” open the catalogue and look through it, rising to 49% among existing buyers of the brand.

“Your human brain pays attention to things that are distinctive, so creating advertising that is original and different is one route to earning attention and standing out,” Deason explains.

“The catalogue was designed with existing customers as the target audience, and it works exceptionally well with this group of people.”

Indeed, 72% of existing users found the catalogue very interesting and 81% chose ‘I love it’ from a six-point rating scale that measures likeability.

While it may be “tempting” to include lots of information in direct mail, Deason says this can look “cluttered” and “hard to navigate”, making it unappealing to consumers’ “lazy” brains.

“Layout, copy, striking and emotionally evocative visuals and well thought out use of colour, and structure are key,” she advises. “The response to this piece of content from Hotel Chocolat suggests they’ve struck the balance right, because it’s so liked and intriguing and people praised its layout, look and feel.”

In fact, one participant said the ad looked “classy” and “inventive”, while another described it as “posh and extravagant”. A third commented: “It makes me think they are a quality brand, which I knew already… they are lovely ideas, different to other brands, and yes I would be tempted to buy from them.”

The brand-building potential

However, while Hotel Chocolat’s direct marketing programme allows the retailer to reach “very specific audiences” and helps to drive immediate product sales, the channel also plays an important part in building brand salience, reach, awareness and relationships with customers, marketing director Ormrod says.

“We have a really good retail footprint, but we don’t necessarily have a physical presence in every high street,” she explains. “We can use direct mail to actually bring the brand directly into people’s homes and to reach beyond digital channels.”

Direct mail therefore plays a strong brand-building role within the retailer’s overall marketing mix – particularly those longer formats, like the catalogue, where there is room to showcase more products and to deliver additional brand storytelling.

Indeed, the catalogue scored within the top 15% of ads for brand cues, and in the top 23% for brand integration. Eye tracking reveals the brand name and logo to be a focal point on the front cover.

It’s a showcase of how a distinctive, creative, informative and exciting piece of direct mail can provide an effective call to action.

Lynne Deason, Kantar

According to Deason, this demonstrates the catalogue has been designed and brought to life in a “very brand centric and authentic way”.

“The sophisticated look and stylish, elegant, and distinctive colour palette reinforce the brand’s premium positioning and desirable and indulgent product offering,” she explains. One self-confessed fan of the brand said the products look “premium, innovative and delicious”.

“Not only does the content support brand salience and serve as a call to action, it also shows strong potential to contribute to the long-term equity of the Hotel Chocolat brand,” Deason adds.

“It achieves this through a brand centric approach that taps into and reinforces existing brand perceptions, while also expanding awareness of the range of products available and the needs the brand can meet.”

Kantar’s data shows the information conveyed in the catalogue is felt to be very credible, scoring in the top 26% of ads. But the ad also makes Hotel Chocolat feel different to other brands, landing in the top 16% for this measure, and builds a sense of love and affinity towards the brand, scoring in the top 40%.

This means the catalogue will build a predisposition for the brand to be chosen over others in future when a relevant need or occasion arises, Deason says.

Hotel Chocolat hails evolution to ‘digital-led brand’ as profits soar

An additional strength of direct mail, like magazine advertising, is that the content has a life and impact that extends beyond the first exposure. Depending upon the content, the return on investment and the impact achieved can have a longer tail than some other forms of advertising.

Noting this, Ormrod says: “On a more emotional basis, as a brand that is a gifting brand and with something like chocolate, we know people actually spend quite a lot of time wanting to sit and have a think about their gifts and have something physical in their hands.”

According to Kantar, 26% of participants said they would keep the Hotel Chocolat catalogue and look through it at another time, and another 13% said they would pass it on to someone else who would use it.

Ormrod adds it’s important to maintain brand presence at a time when people are considering gifting, and that Hotel Chocolat finds value in doing it in a “more tangible and emotive” way.

“Having something that is a bit more tangible to hold on to and act as that reminder in their own home, which is a much more personal space as well, is really important,” she says.

Joining the dots

While Hotel Chocolat’s direct mail activity has proved to be creatively effective by itself, it was not an ad in isolation. The execution came as part of the retailer’s wider Christmas campaign, all of which was driven by the same insight on how people felt about gifting ahead of last Christmas.

“There’s a lot of pleasure that people find in actually finding the perfect gift, but also the pleasure you get when you see someone’s loved it,” Ormrod says.

“Having come out of a period of time where people hadn’t been able to see each other as much, and haven’t been able to spend as much, we know the thought that goes into gift giving is really important to people.”

The idea driving Hotel Chocolat’s Christmas activity last year was therefore about enabling consumers to give “unique” gifts through its range of products, in a way that allows people to feel the brand is part of their celebration.

Pointing to the Christmas crackers featured on the back of the catalogue, Ormrod adds that Hotel Chocolat plays a ritualistic role in some households, and wanted to highlight that in this ad.

“We know from our own customers that people have a lot of their own rituals around Christmas and gift giving and it’s really lovely that Hotel Chocolate products often play a part in that Christmas ritual,” she says.

Ormrod adds that using a combination of touchpoints, from direct mail to digital channels, helped “join the dots up” and keep the brand top of mind among consumers. “The combination of the two is very important, particularly during periods like Christmas,” she says.

While unable to provide results of the Christmas campaign at the time of speaking, Ormrod confirms the overall programme has been Hotel Chocolat’s “most successful” yet.Hotel Chocolat credits ‘multichannel model’ for customer boost

Over the 13 weeks to 26 December 2021, total group revenue increased 37% compared to the same period in 2020, and by 63% against 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. According to Ormrod, marketing played a key part in driving that success.

The next priority on the brand’s effectiveness “journey” is to look at the overall interplay of different media channels and the impact they have on the effectiveness of each other, becoming more “sophisticated” in its measurement and optimisation, she adds.

Meanwhile, Deason concludes that Hotel Chocolat’s catalogue is a “great example of powerful direct mail advertising”.

“It’s a showcase of how a distinctive, creative, informative, and exciting piece of direct mail can provide an effective call to action. It provides instantly engaging, likeable and interesting content that people are drawn to engage with; content that people are happy to pick up again and share with others. It also demonstrates that a brand-centric, integrated approach can contribute to longer-term success,” she says. 

It is also another “great example” of how brands that could be affected by the forthcoming HFSS advertising regulations on digital media and TV can continue to create meaning with people, Deason adds.

“Brands that experiment now and master how to use other channels effectively in a way that is brand-centric that reaches and resonates with key audiences, will gain competitive advantage.”



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