Official-looking direct mail works better than you think

official-looking direct mail

“There are no pictures.”

“The copy is too short.”

“It violates our brand guidelines.”

“It’s so damned ugly!”

These are just a few of the objections you’ll hear if you ever suggest testing an “official” direct mail piece like the one shown here.

However, to those who know better, official-looking mailers can be pure gold.

I received this piece recently and had one of those “Oh, you got me” moments.

Since I specialize in direct mail, I’ve seen every trick in the book. And 99.44% of the time I can spot a marketing piece a mile away no matter how well-crafted.

But it was the end of the day. I was tired. And the direct mail part of my brain had shut down. So when I saw it in the mail pile, I responded like an ordinary human and opened it.

After all, it appears to be from my bank’s mortgage department, so it’s important, right? And it’s talking about my mortgage and a government plan to modify the loan. If I were anyone else, I would have called to see what this was all about and, of course, would have gotten a sales pitch.

But my brain’s direct mail lobe switched on and I realized this was just a solicitation for refinancing.

I’ll sidestep the ethical question here about whether this sort of mailer is good or bad. The issue is why does it work? And believe me, official mailers can work quite well.

First, and most obviously, it’s cheap. This faux snap pack is just a small piece of paper, printed and personalized on both sides in black ink, folded and glued, with perforated strips on the sides. The cheaper the mailer, the more likely it will be to turn a profit.

Second, it doesn’t look like advertising. It flies right past the junk mail radar most people have. Mail generally falls into a few categories: bills, publications, correspondence, and ad mail. By making ad mail look like it belongs to another category, in this case correspondence, it gets sorted into the “open it” pile.

This example is a snap pack, or appears to be, where you have to rip off the sides to see what’s printed inside. The type is plain, the sort you see on government publications or financial documents. And the back is covered with a gray security pattern, supposedly to prevent anyone from seeing the confidential information inside.

Third, it doesn’t read like advertising. The copy doesn’t use typical marketing language. It’s full of official verbiage, such as “Notice,” “Form: DK008-75964,” “confirm eligibility,” and “Loss Mitigation.” It’s pure gobbledygook, but it’s all part of setting the right tone.

Official-looking mail will never win any awards. And a surprising number of people assume it’s just too schlocky to work. But like so many things in direct marketing, looks can be deceiving. Sometimes ugly direct mail works precisely because it’s ugly.

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2 Responses to “Official-looking direct mail works better than you think”

  1. Andrew B. on April 29th, 2011 2:25 pm

    OFFICIAL NOTICE OF VIOLATION. Pursuant to the statutes regulating interstate commerce, your transmission is in direct violation of the Communications Acceptability Act of 1994. Federal and state penalties may be severe. Your IP address has been recorded in accordance with enforcement procedures and you will be contacted shortly to learn about about how you can improve your messaging for the low price of just $399–coming soon to a Hilton Garden Inn near you.

    Did that get your attention? Do you feel a little duped? Do you feel a little resentful when a sales pitch gravy-trains on a seemingly important message?

    I’m a fan of yours, Dean, but I’m just not sure about those types of methods. Isn’t it somewhat analogous to a fake cop pulling you over and asking if you want to buy auto insurance?

    (Not trying to piss you off… but pick your brain.)

  2. MimiR on January 1st, 2012 4:39 am

    I take careful note of these “notices” so that I never accidentally work with a company that endorses them. EVER. These prey on the elderly and those of low intelligence and are horrifically immoral.

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