Postcard copywriting and design blunders

Most people sort their mail ruthlessly. They spend maybe two seconds at the most deciding whether they’ll read something or trash it. So if you’re writing or designing any direct mail piece, you need to capture their attention and get them interested FAST!

I got this postcard in the mail yesterday. Glance at it for no more than a couple seconds then continue reading below.

real estate postcard

Okay your two seconds are up. Do you know what this postcard is selling? Kitchen cabinets? No. Mortgages? No. Hard to tell by looking at it, but it’s actually advertising some condos up the street from me.

Now I know about the condos. I’ve heard about the real estate group selling them. But I honestly couldn’t figure out what this card was about until I studied it, which is something most people will never do.

To be fair, on the back there is copy that uses the words “ranch and townhome condominiums.” But the copy is structured so you have to piece it together in your head to understand it.

The problem here is one of both copywriting and design. The writing doesn’t clearly state the subject. And the design makes the headline and copy hard to read. That’s death for any selling message.

The headline reads, “I looked at 19 different types of cabinets.” That makes me think the postcard is about kitchen cabinets, not condos. The copy doesn’t clarify this at all. It goes on, “This one spoke to me. More choices. More quality…” And so I remain confused about the real subject.

The copy ends with “…more reason to buy than ever before.” Buy what? Then there’s a box with a mortgage rate. Whoa! Now I’m really confused. I thought we were talking about cabinets.

This is a classic problem. The creative concept masks the intended message. The headline and photo are focused on an idea that is not instantly connected to the actual subject, which is buying a condo.

Worse, there’s no call to action anywhere on the postcard. So I have no idea what they want me to do. Visit? Call for an appointment?

This is an example of how NOT to write and design a postcard. What would I do to correct it? Trash the whole thing and start again. I’d come up with an offer, say a free interior design guide. Then I’d offer it to anyone who toured the condos. You could still show a great photo of an impressive kitchen, but I’d want to show people enjoying the kitchen, not holding a door.

I’d give a clear call to action. Give dates when people should take the tour. Provide a map on the back so people could find the neighborhood. I’d even insert a personalized message to summarize the offer, which is one of my trademark techniques for postcards,

And of course my headline would be crystal clear. Something like “Visit The Estates this week to see how you can have a beautiful new home with a kitchen like this, with your choice of high-end cabinets and granite countertops, all for less than $800 a month!” The design would lay out the headline so that “you can have a beautiful new home with a kitchen like this” would be emphasized in larger type, sort of a headline within the headline.

Now I didn’t put much work into that headline, but it immediately issues a call to action and makes a promise that’s enticing. I’d follow this up by explaining how home buyers could design their own kitchen and get their free designer guide.

See the difference? My approach focuses on getting people to tour the homes so the sales people can do their work. The original approach just throws ideas out there with no consideration of whether people understand what the subject is or what action they should take.

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6 Responses to “Postcard copywriting and design blunders”

  1. Wayne Gilchrist on November 15th, 2007 4:32 pm

    I’m a new subscriber. I found your blog from your article on copyblogger.

    This is great information. I’ve been doing some research lately for a direct mail marketing campaign that I want to launch around the beginning of the year. I already started my post card design, but it looks like I am doing it wrong. Thankfully, I found your blog before I made the same mistake.

  2. Dean Rieck on November 15th, 2007 4:44 pm

    Glad I could help. And thanks for subscribing. You’ll get a lot more ideas from the free report that comes with your subscription.

  3. Steve Slaunwhite on November 15th, 2007 10:15 pm

    As always, Dean, excellent information. Clarity is king!

  4. TV on November 16th, 2007 2:12 pm

    Thanks,Dean. This information is extemely helpful.

  5. Wordmasters' Articles on December 11th, 2007 5:16 pm

    Direct Mail Marketing Tip #3 – Keep it relevant.

    Your art, your copy, and whatever else you put on your mail pieces, should relate to what you are trying to promote.  You only have a few seconds or fractions of seconds to get your message …

  6. John Fenton on December 11th, 2007 5:30 pm

    Perfect example! Linked it today in my blog, not sure if you have track back. So just dropping a note to let you know about the link.

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