10/12/2020

Merrell: Well-timed offer lacks expiration clarity

A recent conversation at home went like this:

Me: "Hey, honey, did you say you needed new hiking shoes?"

Wife: "Eventually. Mine are starting to wear. Why?"

Me: "We got an offer in the mail from Merrell for 25% off footwear."

Merrell One Year Discount Offer

Merrell One Year Discount Offer - 25% Off

Wife: "Well, I do like Merrell, but I don't plan to use hiking shoes in the next few weeks. Maybe I should get replacements now with the discount. When does the coupon expire?"

Me: "It doesn't say."

Wife: "Really?"

Me: "I'll look closer." (Puts on reading glasses.) "It says it expires '30 days from postmark.'"

Wife: "When is that?"

Me: "I don't know. It's not postmarked."

Wife: "Well, whatever, I don't need new hiking shoes right away and I'm pretty busy right now."

This conversation outlines why the postcard merits a Fail for Creative

On September 13, 2019, I purchased a pair of Merrell Moab 2 hiking shoes. They are perfect for that outdoor hike around the lake, through a park or in the snow. The postcard arrived October 2, 2020, just a little over a year after I started wearing my previous purchase. So, the timing and messaging around my "Merrell anniversary" are spot on. Kudos to Merrell for Timing.

The postcard included a personalized coupon code for 25% savings; however, there is no mention in the headline regarding when the coupon code expires. I found some information in the disclosure.*

Merrell One Year Discount Offer - 25% Off
Postcard disclosure text

As I wrote in prior blog posts such as this one and this one, a Call to Action should include a clearly communicated offer expiration date. This is important: The right response window encourages immediacy of customer action; one that's faulty or unclearly defined, however, only encourages inertia.

With the Merrell postcard, the coupon code's expiration date is not only buried in the disclosure, it also references expiring "30 days from postmark"; however, there is no postmark. Postcards mailed Standard Rate are not postmarked by the USPS. So, how do customers know when the coupon code expires? They don't.

There are several ways to care for expiration date communication without jeopardizing the integrity of the message, diluting Merrell's branding or adding production costs. Here is one: Include an offer expiration date in the address section of the postcard. 

Merrell postcard mock-up, modified to add expiration date
Mock-up. I added the expiration date in the address panel

In the above mock-up, the coupon code expiration date is clearly communicated. The date is specific and reasonably prominent. The messaging complements the headline and supports immediate action. It can be inkjet- or laser-personalized using the same variable data method as the producing the coupon code and customer name and address. Depending on the postcard's production method, it could appear in spot color without incremental print expenses.

If Merrell adapts this approach, the only incremental edit would be to rephrase the disclosure to reference the expiration date in the address panel.

Lessons:

  1. Your call to action should include a clearly communicated, definitive offer expiration date.
  2. Postcards mailed Standard Rate are not postmarked.


* Many people mistakenly refer to small print associated with marketing communications as a disclaimer, when in fact it is a disclosure. According to dictionary.com, a ‘disclaimer’ is “the act of disclaiming; the renouncing, repudiating, or denying of a claim; disavowal” while a ‘disclosure’ is “the act or an instance of disclosing; exposure; revelation.” ‘Disclose’ is defined as “to make known; reveal or uncover” From a Marketing standpoint, a disclaimer is an admission that the headline is false – otherwise why renounce it? However, a disclosure provides secondary but relevant facts of an offer. So the only reason an offer or marketing communication would require a disclaimer is if it was misleading from the onset.



10/02/2020

PayPal: Selling Honey Requires a Key Ingredient

   This recent email from PayPal merits a couple Fails for Creative

PayPal Honey Offer. What is Honey?
PayPal Honey Offer. What is Honey? 

The email includes a Subject Line of "Get a $5 bonus for shopping smart with Honey." The headline reads "Give Honey a try. Spend $10, Get $5." Below that is a gif of a small box parachuting into a celebration, followed by a message reading, "When you add Honey to your browser for the first time, create an account, and spend $10 or more with PayPal, you'll get a $5 bonus. That's just the start of the savings. Honey members save over $126 annually." Below that are step-by-step instructions about how to install and use Honey, and a disclosure.

There is a clear Call to Action and an incentive for the customer to take action now. The email was sent on September 25 with an offer expiration date of October 4, so immediacy is encouraged. 

But, what is HoneyWhy would I add it to my browser? How do honey members save money, and compared to what? None of these questions are addressed in the email.

Based only on the email, one might guess that Honey is a rebate program or online savings account. In actuality, though, it is an online coupon provider. According to their home page, "Honey helps you find some of the best coupon codes on 30,000+ sites." That is Honey's value proposition, and it is missing from this email.

The other Fail is less important, but worth mentioning.  According to the disclosure and the detailed Terms & Conditions found on Honey's site, only 40,000 customers are eligible for the award. Once that limit is reached -- even if before offer the expiration date -- the reward will no longer be available. This type of restriction is fairly common in direct-to-consumer marketing. I've included number-of-customer limitations in several campaigns to ensure the product is not oversold or to cap potential incentive liability. When I did, I would use this clause to my advantage by communicating it in the body of the email. PayPal could do this by including above the Call to Action a message along the lines of...

Be one of the 40,000 people to get your $5 bonus by October 4th. Bonus must be used by October 31st.* 

or ... 


This exclusive bonus offer is limited to the first 40,000 people to take action by October 4th. Bonus must be used by October 31st.* 

This type of messaging approach not only makes the in-house lawyers happy by clearly communicating an offer restriction; it also communicates scarcity, which is a known factor to drive immediate action and increase response -- and that makes your manager happy.


Lessons:
  1. It is not enough to have a call to action and encourage immediacy in your direct-to-consumer emails. They should always include a value proposition.

  2. If your offer is limited to a specific number of customers, do not bury that restriction -- use it to your sales advantage.

9/16/2020

Upstep: Labor Day Sale Ending, Then Starting

Last year, I wrote about Upstep's 9/11 "Patriot Day" sale on custom orthotic insoles. This year, Upstep had a Labor Day sale. While not as distasteful sale as last year's, their recent series of emails merits Fails for Creative and Timing.

The first email arrived Wednesday, September 2, with the Subject Line "Labour Day Sale Extended!! Last Chance!!"
Upstep Labor Day Email 1

Not only did it arrive a few days prior to Labor Day, the header opens with "Labour". While that is not necessarily a misspelling, it is rarely spelled as such in the United States (where this reader and presumably the company is located). However, the body of the email spells the word as "Labor". So, the spelling is even consistent within the same communication. 

The phone number appears in the style of (xxx) xxxxxxx. It is missing a dash after the third digit. That does not align with the style recommend by google and elsewhere for U.S. phone numbers.

Furthermore, the email communicates a Labor sale being extended prior to there being an email communicating that the sale was starting.

Upstep's second Labor Day email arrived Saturday, September 5:
Upstep: Labor Day email

The timing is on point. However, the graphics (which appear better aligned with Independence Day) do not seem to match the timing. Perhaps a picture of a family picnic or a person standing in front of a barbecue grill would be more relevant -- and the representation of a person standing up in comfortable shoes would tie to the product proposition.

The phone number in this email appears in the style of xxx.xxxx.xxx. While I've often seen phone numbers with the format of xxx.xxx.xxxx, I've not seen one where the second dot is after the seventh digit.

The third Labor Day Sale email arrived the day after Labor Day, Tuesday, September 8:
Upstep: Labor Day Sale extended

The Subject Line is "Here's 2 more days to save". OK, grammatically off a bit, but not a bad use of immediacy and scarcity of time when offering savings.  The Call to Action of "Start Now" is odd, thought, because there the body of the email lacks supporting copy to explain what a customer might be starting.

Again, the phone number is in the unusual style of xxx.xxxx.xxx. 

The fourth Labour, er, Labor Day Sale email arrived Friday, September 11:
Upstep: Labor Day Sale email #4


This appears to be almost identical as the first email on September 2. The Subject Line, copy, and even the phone number style are the same. 

Upstep's fifth Labor Day Sale email arrived Saturday, September 13:
Upstep: Labor Day email #5

The phone number appears in the style of (xxx) xxxxxxx. Dashes, anyone?

Only the fourth and fifth emails provide a street address for Upstep -- 30 Chapman Road in Pine Brook, NJ. I looked it up on Google Maps, and it appears to be a light industrial complex. There is no mention of Upstep (or an agency acting on behalf of Upstep) being located here. This seeming lack of transparency might give pause to potential customers who are researching the company

In countries other than the United States, Labor Day takes place on different dates. Did Upstep get confused about when it happens in the U.S.? Is "Samantha," the person mentioned in some of the emails, a real person not originally from the States? I can only speculate about whether the writing style is international or just sloppy. Recipients might ask themselves those questions and hesitate to purchase from the company.

Is this nitpicky? Perhaps. But, when timing details are missed and unfamiliar communication styles are used, a reader is less likely to trust the content of the marketing communication and make a purchase.

Lessons:
  1. When having a holiday sale, time your emails appropriate to the holiday and use imagery appropriate to the holiday. 

  2. Your writing nomenclature, including phone numbers, should be appropriate to the local market.

8/30/2020

Mr. Cooper: Sloppy letter

This letter from home loan provider Mr. Cooper merits multiple Fails for Creative.

Mr. Cooper home loan offer letter
"Pre-Approval" Letter


The letter opens with a headline reading "You're Pre-Approved* for a New Home Loan." Then, the first sentence after the salutation reads, "Whether you're bying a home or refinancing ...Those two bits of copy don't align, which can be confusing. If Mr. Cooper is offering a new home loan (as stated in the salutation), then why the quick change to refinancing in the sentence immediately following? If Mr. Cooper is offering pre-approval for a home refinancing, why not have a headline reading "You're Pre-Approved for a Home Loan" without suggesting the pre-approval is restricted to the purchase of a new home?

The letter's Call to Action is to contact Mr. Cooper's call center. These days, many call centers are open 24/7. Mr. Cooper's hours, however, are limited to 9-14 hours a day, Monday - Saturday. Fair enough. Home loan purchasing is not like auto insurance, where you might want Jake from State Farm to take care of you in the middle of the night. However, the call center hours are hard to find on the letter. They are located under the company's address, when they would be more appropriately positioned near the phone number the reader would call.

The letter contains several grammatical and formatting errors. Some examples:
  • There are three problems in this one sentence: "Call today to see if your could lower your monthly payment, payoff your home faster, pay less interest or other loan benefits.
    • The diction is incorrect in that a person does not place a phone call to "see" something. A person places a phone call to "hear" or "learn" something.(Had there not been other errors in the same sentence, I might have passed this off as a copywriter's creative style.)
    • The sentence lacks parallel structure in that the reference to "other loan benefits" lacks a verb.
    • The word "payoff" is improperly applied. As written, "payoff" refers to bribing someone. The sentence should have used the term "pay off," written out as two words.

  • In the line listing call center hours, there is an extraneous space at the front of the line.

  • For readability, that same line should include commas after the days of the week, e.g., "Mon - Thu, 7 am - 9 pm CT..."

  • In the opt-out box at the bottom of the letter, the word "pres-screen" is treated inconsistently -- once with a hyphen and twice without.
If potential customers see so many errors in a business's one-page letter, why would they believe the business is capable of properly handing a mortgage application or that the business could accurately prepare required documents for a home sale closing?

In other words, Mr. Cooper needs to clean up his act.

Lessons:
  1. The body copy of a marketing communication should support the headline.
  2. Include your call center hours in context.
  3. Proofread your communications for language and grammar. 
  4. Ensure your formatting is consistent and your letter is visually clean.

7/06/2020

PenFed Credit Union: Not Military Precision

I recently received this solicitation from PenFed Credit Union, whose formal name (according to Wikipedia) is Pentagon Federal Credit Union -- a name that aligns with the company’s pentagon-shaped logo

The solicitation letter is pretty typical for mid-tier credit card providers: window envelope with teaser; letter with Johnson Box; clear Call to Action; Schumer Box; buckslip insert reinforcing benefits and the call to action; and required credit prescreen opt-out notice.


PenFed Federal Credit Union






The first line of the disclosure on the front of the letter reads, “To receive any advertised product, you must become a member of the PenFed Credit Union.” I originally thought this might be a Fail for Targeting since I have never worked in the military services or at the Pentagon and thus, I thought, would not be eligible for membership. The letter itself does not mention membership criteria, and I also could not find a mention on the main pages of their website or their sitemap. I did, however, find some information about membership eligibility from third-party websites such as on WalletHub; from there, I returned to a page that listed Affinity Partners

On affinity partner pages such as this one related to the American Red Cross, there is some copy that reads:

"Congratulations! As an employee, retiree, or volunteer of the American Red Cross you are eligible for PenFed membership! How does PenFed define volunteer? A volunteer is anyone who provides time, talent, or treasure. Time is the hours volunteering for the organization, talent is the unique skills a volunteer brings to the organization, and treasure is both financial and blood donations."

Aha! I am eligible for PenFed Credit Union membership because I supported the American Red Cross. Perhaps the Red Cross shared my contact information with PenFed in hopes that I would become a member and the Red Cross would receive some benefit for the referral. If I am correct -- and, perhaps even if I'm not -- the letter merits a Fail for Creative because the letter lacks an explanation of membership eligibility. 

The letter should explain membership eligibility and how broadly they define it. Even a couple lines along the lines of "We support people who serve the military but also offer membership benefits to tens of thousands of other people who support the military or one of our affinity partners." Or, if I received this offer because of my history of American Red Cross support, why not call that out? Touting affinity relationships helped make MBNA America successful -- perhaps that approach could work for the credit union.

At the very least, PenFed should add a page on its website explaining membership criteria -- a page that is indexed by Google, easy to find and easy to understand. This easy-to-find page on Affinity Federal Credit Union's website is a good template.

Also, is this offer a Fail for Timing? According to CNBC and other news sources, many banks are cutting back on balance transfer offers during these extraordinary times. Perhaps the credit union has a contrary view of where the economy is headed. Or, maybe it has reviewed its current membership pool and credit prescreen criteria and has taken a different view of credit default risk. Or, maybe the credit union had planned this campaign long in advance, and just decided to move forward.

Lessons:
  1. If soliciting members for your credit union's credit card, include language that suggests the person is not only eligible for the credit card, but also eligible to join the credit union.
  2. Membership eligibility for a credit union should be easy to find.
  3. Consider whether a pandemic is a good time to offer 0% balance transfers.

6/06/2020

Affinity Federal Credit Union: Visa Email Not the Best Fit

When you join a credit union, you can remain a member regardless of what happens to your original qualifications. That is the case with me. My first job out of college was at AT&T. I used my first paycheck to become a member of the AT&T Employee Federal Credit Union at their on-site branch. A month later, I applied for and received their Visa credit card.

I left AT&T but remained a member of its credit union. A few years later, the credit union expanded its membership criteria and rebranded as Affinity Federal Credit Union (AFCU). I have watched over the decades as the credit union’s marketing communications evolved from simple and homely to complicated and flashy. Sometimes, their complex messaging leads to ambiguity and confusion.

For example, I recently received this email selling a change from my current Affinity Pure Rewards Visa Credit Card to an AffinityCash Rewards Visa Signature Credit Card. My current Visa card offers the equivalent of 1% cash back on all purchases, plus up to an additional 5% on purchases made through their online portal. The Signature Card earns – well, based on the email – something that matches my personal spending style. Huh?
Affinity Federal Credit Union
Affinity Federal Credit Union
Affinity Federal Credit Union



The Subject Line reads, “Switch Your Card to the Best Fit.” The headline in the email reads “SWITCH YOUR CARD / Find Your Best Fit” – suggesting I might be able to compare cards. The first Fail for Creative is the contradiction between the Subject Line and email content. The Subject Line implies that the Visa Signature Card would be my best fit; the Headline implies that I need to find the card that is my fit; then, the Subhead suggests that the Visa Signature card is meant for me. The card should either be good for me or not – pick one.

It turns out that I have to find the card and work hard to find the link to make the switch.

The email’s links to “Log In & Switch” do not lead to a comparison page. They lead to the credit union’s general customer login page. From there, I have to log in; scroll past my account balances, my pre-approved auto loan offers, a solicitation to consolidate outside accounts, an offer to track all my purchases by category, and a review of my rewards points balances and rewards available; and find a link in 12-point font reading, “Switch My Credit Card.”

This is a Fail because the offer requires substantial customer effort to respond. Granted, the email explains part of this process, but that only partially mitigates the friction present in the transaction. Furthermore, there is not an easy way for me to compare my current card to this new one. Which benefits are the same? Which ones are different? What benefit might the customer lose by making the switch? 

If I haven’t given up and I manage to click on the “Switch My Credit Card” link, this confirmation screen appears:

Affinity Federal Credit Union

This confirmation screen is the first point in the customer experience that mentions specific product benefits. The product description reads:

Unlimited cash back with no annual fee. Earn up to 5% cash back on all purchases, including bookstores like Amazon.com, access 24/7 Visa Signature Concierge, cell phone protection, travel benefits and more.

This sales message is another Fail for Creative. Overall, the sales message is fairly incoherent, with a confusing string of dependent clauses.

It is sparse and written poorly. Let’s break it down:

  • “Earn up to 5% cash back on all purchases”: What does “up to” mean? Do I have to meet a purchase threshold to earn 5%? Does 5% apply only to purchases up to a threshold amount? Or is some other dynamic in play?
  • “…including bookstores like Amazon.com”: Amazon is not a bookstore. It is a shopping site that sells just about everything you can have shipped to you, digital services, even house cleaning. Does this phrasing mean I would earn up to 5% cash back only on books? Or on anything purchased on Amazon.com? The Amazon app is not a dot-com. Are those purchases eligible? What are “bookstores like Amazon.com”? Does that include books on barnesandnoble.com? What about jigsaw puzzles on barnesandnoble.com? Does it include my local brick-and-mortarbookstore? What about books on target.com?
  • “Cell phone protection”: What does that mean?
Another Fail for Creative is the lack of information in the customer email. With some active research, I was able to learn that the card offers 5% cash back at “all bookstores, including Amazon.com” (whatever that means); 2% cash back at restaurants, gas stations, and supermarkets; and 1% on other purchases. These are substantial features that should be included in the email to help explain why the card fits my lifestyle. 


I was able to find more information on this product sales page. It appears to have some explanation of what “bookstores, including Amazon.com” means. If I understand the footnote…
2 Cardholders will earn 5% cash back (which is equivalent to 5 points for every $1 spent) for purchases made at Bookstores, which also include purchases made at Amazon.com on up to $3,500 per month in purchases, excluding gift cards. Please note that these bonus categories are categorized by specific Merchant Category Codes. Not all merchants may use the specific qualified transactions codes. The additional points may not be issued, if the merchant does not use a qualified Merchant Category Code.
…a customer earns 5% cash back at Amazon.com and at all bookstores. If so, why not state that outright? Or perhaps simplify the offering and make it applicable to only Amazon.com, as Discover Card does in its quarterly calendar?


The same page mentions the feature of cell phone protection as an exclusive “card-holder” benefit:
Affinity Federal Credit Union

There are two Fails here. The first is grammatical: “card-holder” is not hyphenated. The second is that there is no explanation of features related to this benefit. What does "cell phone protection" mean? How is a cell phone protected? Are there incremental requirements to get this protection? My supposition is that AFCU’s protection is similar to Wells Fargo’s cellular telephone protection; however, this is merely a guess. I cannot find details anywhere on the ACFU website. While I’m not a fan of having numerous disclosures in a marketing communication, an explanation and details should be available to the customer.

Lessons:
  1. The content of a marketing email should complement the Subject Line.
  2. Marketing communications should explain at least some product features to support benefits messaging.
  3. Marketing emails should have a simple call to action.
  4. A customer's online sales journey should start with supporting the email sales message, then quickly and easily bring the customer through the sale.
  5. Amazon is not a bookstore.
  6. Proofread your content.
  7. If you message a product feature, make available a clearly communicated explanation of what it means.

5/18/2020

Norwegian Cruise Lines: Come Sail Away With Me!


This is a difficult time for everyone. A pandemic is killing tens of thousands of people in the United States, which is why many companies have pulled back on their marketing efforts. Printers and lettershops are having to furlough employees, while their salespeople are aggressively reaching out to find business and keep their web presses running. The USPS is running out of money due to reduced delivery and -- it could be argued -- legacy costs. 

In the short term, the USPS has issued many alerts about mail interruption, although they may be understating impacts. I recently heard an anecdote from a lettershop that had a large mailing dropping PFC postage that had to be privately trucked to some regional distribution centers and SCFs because the postal service wasn't able to get the mail on airplanes.


But life goes on -- and so does direct mail marketing. In the past 10 days, my family has received marketing mail from a few companies. We received a coupon mailer from CVS. That makes sense. The stores are open and people still need basic medical supplies and sundries. MetLife mailed me a solicitation for auto insurance. Because of the pandemic, we rarely drive anywhere but, OK, we still need to insure our car and save money. 

We received an LL Bean catalog. No surprise -- people still need to wear shoes and clothes. We also received a mailer from locally owned Mojo, offering a "Quarantine Menu" of Latin American-themed food and flavored adult beverages available for pick-up or delivery. That's a smart move. 

However, when I received this 20-page mini-catalog from Norwegian Cruise Lines, I thought, "Say, what!?!
Direct Mail May, 2020
Direct Mail, May, 2020
NCL Cruise Lines
Brochure Covers
Are consumers really thinking about going on a cruise after all the news about cruise ship passengers getting sick and dying from COVID-19, or that more than 70,000 cruise ship employees are still stuck at sea, some killing themselves. In this catalog, the only reference to the pandemic is peripheral. It reads: "Book Today with Norwegian's Peace of Mind And Change Plans As Needed. Learn more at NC.COM/PEACEOFMIND."

It has been more than eight weeks since all cruises were halted. That's plenty of time for NCL and its marketing agency to redo or cancel this mailing.

But does that qualify this mailing as a Fail for Timing? Maybe not. 

Direct Mail, May, 2020
Page in NCL Brochure

The NCL brochure includes pictures of places we'd like to be right now, rather than stuck at home constantly refreshing Instacart and Amazon Fresh to see if we can get a grocery delivery window. Although NCL is currently booking cruises through at least summer 2022, the brochure doesn’t mention dates. Perhaps that’s because some near-term cruise dates are likely to be canceled.


I'm reminded of this article from National Geographic. It describes how, during World War II, some companies advertised brands of products that were not available due to rationing and other wartime efforts. So, why advertise? Because they were looking to the future.
"Yet another reason companies ran ads for goods and services that the public couldn't buy or use was to be well positioned at war's end, when an Allied victory was expected to usher in a new era of prosperity.  
For many Americans, it was hard to imagine a thriving postwar economy after a decade-long depression and several years of obligatory wartime rationing. This gave companies all the more reason to assure consumers that a booming postwar economy was just over the horizon."

Direct Mail, May, 2020, Alaska
This looks like a very cool cruise!

NCL's brochure sells the ability to escape -- pulling strings at our collective aspiration for something better. So, maybe we can't go kayaking on a glacier lake in Alaska this summer. We can believe that we will kayak on that glacier lake someday, and an NCL cruise ship will take us there. 

Nonetheless, the self-mailer does merit a call-out Fail for Creative. The website URL was printed as NC.COM/PEACEOFMIND, when it should be NCL.COM/PEACEOFMIND. Perhaps, in the rush to add the mention, NCL overlooked proofreading.
Direct Mail, May, 2020, invalid URL
Invalid URL on back cover

Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay optimistic.

Lessons:
  1. You should not presume to discontinue direct marketing during a national crisis, but you should rethink it.
  2. Always proofread your marketing communications, including late-stage edits. Check and double-check all website URL's.

4/05/2020

Santander Bank: Creative Improvements, Lousy Timing


Last May, I wrote about a postcard I received from Santander Bank that merited a Fail forCreative because it promoted an incentive but lacked a conspicuous explanation of how to earn the incentive.

Santander Bank self-mailer
Santander Bank self-mailer
Cover panel
Santander Bank self-mailer
Address panel


Santander’s small roll-fold self-mailer that I received on April 2 here in New York City, however, includes elements lacking in last year’s postcard.

Santander Bank self-mailer
Offer Panels


This recent self-mailer includes a clear call to action. In fact, performing the desired action comes across as easy as 1, 2, 3.  The self-mailer includes a conspicuous explanation of what is required to enjoy the $300 incentive, with supplemental information in the disclosure. There is adequate space for benefits messaging, an easy-to-read Promotion Code, and the location of the nearest branch.

Santander Bank self-mailer
Promotion Code and Bank Branch Location


However, as I write this, the nearest branch listed on the postcard has been closed for two weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than two thousand people in New York City have succumbed to the virus. The Big Apple is in lockdown. Is this really when a consumer might consider switching the bank where their paycheck is deposited? Many consumers around here won’t even have a paycheck in a couple weeks; many others will be deceased.

So, this self-mailer is a Fail For Timing. At the very least, it can come across as callous. But should one blame Santander? It could be that the self-mailer was mailed before things got bad. When mailing Standard Rate, there is a lag time between maildrop and in-home date – sometimes a few business days, sometimes a few weeks. As we’ve seen, the world can change a lot in that short time.

Several years ago, I launched a direct mail campaign offering prospective customers around Philadelphia savings on their electricity supply costs. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy started up the East Coast after the maildrop. The mail reached the target market while the hurricane was disrupting power to many homes. Who knew?

Santander Bank self-mailer disclosure panel
Disclosures updated as of 2/29/20

The disclosure includes an as-of date of February 29, which suggests the self-mailer was printed in early March. If it was mailed prior to March 10, I would say"Who knew?" 

Or maybe the mail dropped closer to March 20, which means the bank knew about the pandemic hitting the United States but decided to mail anyway. If so, a decision should have been made to pull the mail rather than commit an unforced error because – even though the mail had been printed and personalized – the campaign could have been halted. Doing so would have meant postage money could be saved for a better timed mailing, and would have prevented bad optics.

Lessons:
  1. Your Call to Action should be conspicuous and easy to understand.
  2. Sometimes planned marketing efforts can be impacted by unforeseen events.
  3. There are occasions when you may need to pull mail at the last minute. Maintain the decision-making capability and flexibility to do so.



3/31/2020

Coronavirus Guidelines for America: Late and Hard to Read

I received a postcard with “PRESIDENT TRUMP’S CORONAVIRUS GUIDELINES FOR AMERICA.” It was dated March 16 and arrived in my New York City mailbox on March 28.

COVID-19
Coronavirus Guidelines
Mailed Standard Rate
Let’s look at this postcard from a direct mail marketing perspective. The primary objective of the postcard is to motivate people to take action to prevent getting the virus that causes COVID-19, while the secondary objective is to motivate readers to visit coronavirus.gov for more information. It merits a Fail for Creative for a few reasons.
  • White text on a black background is neither easy to print nor read, especially in italics at 9-point font size. 

COVID-10
If you can read the good hygiene tips, you don't need glasses.

  • The Call to Action to visit coronavirus.gov is visually lost.
    • On the address side, below a couple graphical icons, the website is suggested as a place to go for more information
    • On the copy side, it sits in the corner without a description of the site or a reason to visit it. It is in a good location relative to the layout of the postcard—and bold compared to most of the other content; however, the line starting “EVEN IF YOU ARE YOUNG,” with a blue background, is what draws a reader.

Perhaps the small postcard is trying to accomplish too much in too little space.

Lessons:
  1. If your copy is small, make sure you have proper color contrast.
  2. Make your call to action prominent.


[Edit: Removed commontary about postal rate used, as this was mailed EDDM.]

3/01/2020

American Red Cross: No longer blind


A little over two months ago, I wrote about receiving a solicitation from the Red Cross in a blind envelope right in the middle of the traditional giving season. Last week, I received a similar solicitation but with a corporate envelope.

Where the envelope in December had no hint of branding, this envelope is unmistakably from the American Red Cross. The teaser message reminds me that my donation helps the Red Cross respond to more than 60,000 disasters a year.

American Red Cross
Red Cross Solicitation:
Fully Branded Outer Envelope
The letter inside is exactly the same as the December letter. The only update is the mailing date.

Red Cross Charity Solicitation Letter
Donation Solicitation Letter front
multichannel engagement
Donation Solicitation Letter back
Request for email address circled

As a direct marketing professional, my gut tells me that the blind envelope was part of an A/B Test and this is the Control, but that is just a hunch. Perhaps the plan was for the holiday solicitation to be blind to differentiate it from the multitude of charity mailers that typically arrive in December. The mailbox is not as busy in February, the thinking would go, so now is time to show that logo again.

I wonder if it is also time for increased multichannel engagement. This is a direct mail letter requesting a mailed-back, completed response form. There is also an online donation option; however, the mention of that is in small type.

No one wants to mess with a successful Control package (if this is it); however, it may be time to consider that the internet is useful for many things, including donor engagement. Buried on the back of the form  below the input field for credit card information  is a request for email address. Instead, why not, on the front of the form, ask all donors for their email address to share stories of the Red Cross coming to the aid of disaster survivors? Rather than treating this solicitation as solo mail in a vacuum, include a link to the American Red Cross YouTube channel or the local Red Cross as a means of encouraging engagement?

Business Reply Envelope

Perhaps that could be their next A/B Test.



Lessons:

1.      Test your most successful direct mail packages. Let new presumptions challenge your assumptions.
2.      We live in an omnichannel world. Don’t use direct mail in a vacuum – integrate it with your other engagement channels.

2/18/2020

MGM Resorts: What Happens in Vegas Is Late for Valentine’s Day

In New York City, you know Valentine’s Day is coming when your favorite restaurant sends emails one to two weeks in advance touting their “Lover’s Duet Meal” or something similarly hokey. These meals usually involve a prix fixe menu at about 20% more than the usual price, with an implicit promise that you wrap up quickly so you can get on to the, um, next thing with your significant other and the restaurant can get on to their next paying couple.

“Reservations are a must,” they tout. “Book early!”  💋😘😍

Around February 10-12, the local grocery chains advertise chocolates and stuffed animals at a discount price. Places that wouldn’t have fresh flowers on any other day suddenly have red roses by the register. Even the neighborhood bodega somehow gets in on the act, placing red balloons for sale next to the lollipops or Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.

Then February 14 rolls around. You’ve made your plans, bought your flowers, written a card with a silly message, torn up the card, and written a new card with a loving, memorable message. On the way home, you check your email.

“Love is in the air at MGM Resorts,” the subject line reads. The subhead: “Let us help make Valentine’s Day unforgettable with some delectable restaurant choices, spa specials and creative experiences.”


MGM Resorts Valentine's Day email
Sent afternoon of February 14

This is a Fail for Timing. The email was sent on February 14, 1:27 pm Pacific Time. (On the East Coast, that’s 4:27 pm.) By that time, it’s a bit late to plan an event in Las Vegas to reconnect over a couple’s massage or pet the captive dolphins at Mirage. And it would be nearly impossible to land a reservation at a Vegas Strip restaurant with dining options that are sure to impress. 

Valentine’s Day is a holiday where expensive splurges need to be advance planned. Ideally, an email of this type should be sent 1-2 weeks prior to the holiday with a follow-up reminder email sent 3-4 days after the first email. That offers at least an adequate amount of time to book a flight to Vegas and a helicopter excursion to the Grand Canyon. (Even then, though, you’ll need Vegas-level luck to get a dining reservation confirmed.)

Here is an example of a Valentine's Day email I received, well timed a week prior to the holiday.

Dee's Restaurant, Queens, NY
Local restaurant email
smartly sent February 7

Lesson:
Consumers make holiday plans prior to the holiday. Time your marketing communications accordingly.