Ram rumps and direct marketing success

Celebrating the New Year is an ancient tradition. Like people today, our ancestors marked the New Year by watching parades, making resolutions, and drinking themselves into a stupor.

That should warm the cockles of any direct marketer’s heart because it’s further proof that people don’t change much over time.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is the desire to find ways to improve business in the coming New Year. One ancient method was beheading a ram and rubbing the rump of the poor beast against the temple walls.

Now I can’t say whether ram rump rubbing worked or not. But if you’re thinking about your direct marketing business, I would suggest trying a few ideas that are a bit more pragmatic, none of which involve farm animals or their rumps:

This is based on an article I wrote several years ago titled “Ram Rumps and New Year’s Resolutions.” I suggest you read the entire article.

By the way. You’ve noticed that I don’t use illustrations much in this blog. This is mostly because I’m lazy and finding great photos takes time. But I’ll bet you’re particularly relieved that I didn’t try to illustrate this post, eh?

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Who is the greatest marketer in history?

Henry Ford? Montgomery Ward? Bill Gates?

I have another person in mind. You know him. You love him. His name is … Santa Claus. And he operates the oldest and most successful toy and gift manufacturing and distribution business in the world.

How has he done it? I can’t reveal all his secrets, but I’ll tell you a few.

Santa’s Secrets of Marketing Success


And yes. That’s me on Santa’s knee. I’m one of his best customers.

Merry Christmas.

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Is the government monopoly on mail a good thing?

It may sound odd to talk about the United States Postal Service (USPS) as a “monopoly.” But that’s exactly what it is.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution affirms the ability of the government to “establish Post Offices.” And various laws give the USPS a “statutory monopoly” on non-urgent First Class Mail and the exclusive right to put mail in private mailboxes.

Translation: It’s illegal to deliver most types of mail, including letters, postcards, catalogs, magazines, and bills, if you’re not the USPS. That’s virtually everything any business would mail to customers or prospects. Yes, you can send something via an “urgent” service, such as FedEx, but the law stipulates that what you send must be urgent. Plus the law forces the delivery service to charge at least $3.00 or offer the service for free and place the thing you’re sending on your porch or somewhere other than in your mailbox.

There might be good arguments for such a powerful monopoly in the early days of the U.S., but what about now? Should the USPS continue to hold a monopoly on all “non-urgent” mail? Or should businesses be allowed to compete for whatever sort of delivery service they want to offer?

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Book Review: The Wizard of Ads

I picked up The Wizard of Ads many years ago on a whim. I’d never heard of Roy H. Williams, but the book intrigued me with chapter titles such as “Velcro, the Ad Writer’s Friend” and “Idiots Are Out to Get Me.”

When I had a chance to sit down and read the book, I found myself mesmerized by the series of inventive contemplations on pretty much everything under the sun, all related one way or another to advertising and selling.

Unlike most books on advertising, this one isn’t filled with tactics, so you won’t find any how-to advice. It’s not a book on strategy either, so it’s not full of buzzwords. It’s really a collection of thoughts about basic principles. Most chapters are no longer than a page or two. And what makes the book special is that Williams uses stories, memories, history, and trivia to make his point.

The first chapter, titled “Nine Secret Words,” is a good example of the style:

“Lean down so that I may speak into your ear, for the thing I am about to tell you is not for the others to know. I share with you now the secret knowledge known to only a powerful few. I give you the Nine Words which, if held in your heart, will transform Success and Failure into mere coins that you may pull from your pocket and bestow upon those you would favor.”

Leaning closer, I could feel his weak and ragged breath on my ear as he whispered:

“The risk of insult is the price of clarity.”

Then he was gone.

Williams then briefly explains how most ads fail because advertisers are more interested in not ruffling feathers than in being clear and direct.

Admittedly, taken in large doses, Williams’ style can get monotonous. But this isn’t a book to read start to finish. It’s meant to be sampled a few thoughts at a time. And it can be very inspiring. In fact, Williams has built a small training empire on the back of this and subsequent books using whimsical stories to help people understand the principles of effective advertising.

I keep The Wizard of Ads handy for a quick mental pick-me-up and it never fails to do the job. It’s smart, creative, and far ranging, covering subjects such as multiplying the effectiveness of ads, understanding the tug-of-war between mind and feelings, seeing opportunities, and creating new ideas from old ones.

Williams is not a direct marketing guy. He’s an advertising guy who, I seem to remember, used to specialize in memorable radio ads. But most of the principles he talks about translate nicely to any sort of advertising, marketing, or business. It’s even good for general advice about living life.

If you’re looking for actionable information, don’t bother. And if you have no patience for anything but direct advice, the whimsy of this book isn’t for you. But if you want a unique book that you can dive into again and again for inspiration, I highly recommend The Wizard of Ads. Keep it near your desk for a quick lunch read, use it as a bathroom book, or put it on your nightstand for a five-minute business devotion before you go to bed.

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Call Guinness. Here’s the dumbest Web site design on Earth!

I know you’ve seen stupid Web site design before. But you’ve never seen anything this absurd.

Take a look at the site for the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency. If you dare. I can’t even describe it. You have to see it for yourself.

What the blue freakin’ blazes were they thinking?

I challenge you … no … I DARE you to find a site that is less user friendly or more self-indulgent.

Okay, the pencil thingy is fun to play with. But c’mon. This is the main site for a major worldwide ad agency? Really?

If this is how they advertise their own agency, what can clients expect for their millions of dollars? And if this was their best idea for a Web site, what sort of ideas did they reject???

The boobs who designed this site couldn’t learn a thing from my article on killing Web site traffic. Maybe you could, though.

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Eye-tracking studies reveal design secrets

I stumbled onto a fascinating list of design tips based on eye-tracking studies.

The studies referred to here focus on Web sites. But there are lessons to be learned for advertising design. Here are few takeaways:

I think every designer should be a student of reading and legibility theory. In case you’re interested, here’s some additional info on reading, legibility, and ad design.

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The history of branding

As someone who makes a living creating direct mail and other forms of direct response advertising, I don’t spend much time thinking about branding. In fact, I’ve developed a reputation for ignoring branding guidelines when I think they’re getting in the way of making sales.

I’ve embarrassed my share of marketing managers with ugly direct mail that beats the snot out of more attractive, heavily branded mail pieces. I even got one product manager fired when a direct mail package I created to launch a computer game produced such high response that it shattered corporate records and shamed every other manager in the company.

But I have no beef with branding. In fact, I find it fascinating. One site I recently discovered on the history of branding provides fascinating details about many of the most famous and successful brands. This is one of those sites you have to bookmark for future reference.

Sometime I’ll elaborate on why I think that branding and direct marketing are not incompatible, as long as you understand the purpose and proper application of each.

Note: The site I’m linking to should really be named “The History of Brands,” rather than “The History of Branding.” It doesn’t discuss branding as a strategy. Still, it’s interesting.

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Happiness drives consumer behavior

People-centered marketing always outperforms product-centered marketing. And ultimately, all marketing comes down to one thing: making people happy.

An article at MarketingProfs talks about how happiness is the driving force behind everything Americans do and that it’s the “who not the what” that really matters.

Think about this. Think about it hard. It’s one of the core ideas behind the very best copywriting. Here’s an article with some practical applications for the idea of people power.

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The future of direct mail and advertising intrusiveness

Ted Grigg posted some interesting thoughts recently about the impact of direct mail vs. online advertising.

Due to its escalating cost, more demanding execution and relative rarity, direct mail appeals garner more attention from recipients than the same messages found in their crowded email inboxes. With the explosive growth of email, printed direct mail has now gained more respect among consumers.

In addition, direct mail is more intrusive than the Internet that relies 100% on the consumer to access the advertiser’s web site.

There are two important points I’d like to make about this.

First, I agree that direct mail carries a powerful punch. And I have no doubt that it will become more effective as time goes on, despite any new technologies that may arise, perhaps because of new technologies.

As online opportunities multiply and consumers turn their ire away from “junk mail” and toward “spam,” we’ll see consumer attitudes about mail become more and more favorable. People have short memories and can only hate so many things at one time. As they hate spam more, they’ll love direct mail more.

Second, there’s that word, “intrusive.” I love online advertising and agree with the idea of opt-in as a necessary strategy, but a pernicious misconception is evolving out of the online community that this idea should apply to all forms of advertising, that no one should ever be exposed to sales messages that they don’t ask for.


Advertising MUST be intrusive. Marketing demands it. Our industry, indeed our entire economy, relies on it. Advertising cannot be passive. It must push messages as aggressively as possible. How could you introduce new products and services otherwise? There’s a reason companies hire sales people — because they push. Advertising is simply salesmanship in print (or sounds or images).

Can you imagine being forbidden to mail anything unless someone specifically asked for it? How many businesses would survive if they were prevented from running ads, putting up billboards, broadcasting radio or TV spots, distributing literature, or otherwise pushing messages without express permission from potential customers?

No one wants to waste money on unresponsive prospects. But we must be careful about misapplying the opt-in idea. Better targeting is what we need, not the mindless and idealistic idea to eradicate intrusiveness.

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Visit the Direct Marketing Article Archive

I’ve been adding lots of articles to my article archive. They cover various topics on direct marketing, direct mail, copywriting, and design.

It’s a bit jumbled right now, since I’m randomly pulling items going back 15 years or so. But once I get most of them posted, I’ll organize them into topics.

Here are a few you might enjoy. Please Digg, Stumble, and otherwise bookmark and share these with people you know.

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