In pursuit of excellence

Mike Welsh, CEO, Publicis Dialog, argues that direct marketing can be both a beacon of creative excellence and well-targeted.

Earlier this month Marketing Week’s very own Russell Parsons wrote, “Direct Marketers should accept that their work might be unloved but it is effective“…

Sorry Russell, I don’t accept this premise. It’s not the medium that’s the problem, it’s the messages and, more importantly, our creative standards. Let me illustrate my point via the medium of television (so everyone is familiar with what I’m talking about).

Comparethemarket.com and webuyanycar.com are both trying to make their propositions memorable. One of them uses charm, engagement and originality. The other uses a sledgehammer. Both are effective, but only one is loved.

The point being that if all TV commercials were like webuyanycar.com then TV advertising would be seen by the public as unloved but effective.

But direct marketing does have another problem – bad use of data. Holding and using personal data has long been a hot potato. The industry justification being that the more we know about an individual, the more relevant and targeted we can be, and in the case of direct mail, less wasteful as a result.

But in practice it doesn’t always work that way and therefore has the opposite effect. Here are two examples that have happened to me in the last couple of weeks.

Firstly, Laithwaites, the wine people, have built a hugely successful business off the back of direct marketing. They could teach most of us a thing or two, I suspect.

They wrote to me recently telling me they’ve just opened a shop near me (I live in Blackheath, South-East London). Turns out that the shop is in South Croydon and that’s miles away, probably an hour’s drive away.

By trying to show that they know me, Laithwaites merely prove they don’t know me at all.

Secondly, our good friends at the DMA email me on a regular basis to ensure I’m always up-to-date with the comings and goings at our trade body. But everything they send me I get twice, presumably because I’m on the database twice. Some basic data hygiene would sort this out. Those that can, do…

It’s still the case that for too many direct marketers, the discipline is nothing more than a numbers game; “I need to sell 1,000 products. I know I’ll get a 1% response rate from my mailing therefore I need to mail 100,000 people”. It’s marketing by the square yard where, in this mindset, quality, creativity and engagement are completely undervalued.

There are plenty of examples where brands have been built (as well as products sold) via direct marketing and where likeability (and talkability) has been integral to the work.

First Direct, Land Rover, PlayStation, Skoda and Guinness are obvious examples, all created by brands and agencies for whom exceeding response rates was not enough. They all wanted to create work that was also admired by their colleagues, their industry and by the general public.

It all reminds me of Paul Arden’s book “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be”. If we accept that our work might be unloved, we’re saying that mediocrity is OK. Not exactly a rallying cry for the next generation of talent.

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