Know Thy Customer, and Know Thy Customer’s Children

Fail: List 

The use of your customer list and communicating your knowledge of them to them can lead to smart direct mail -- or to a Fail. This self-mailer from a Honda dealership is an example of effective use of a customer list …

… the recipient owns a 2002 Odyssey and needs regular service.  So a mailpiece that references their car will get a high open rate and effective response rate.

A postcard from UnitedHealthOne leverages an insurance company’s knowledge that a family has a student in her fourth year of college to offer post-grad individual insurance:

In this case, the student is planning a fifth year of undergrad studies. UnitedHealthOne could get bonus points if it sends another postcard next year.  Also, the postcard was addressed to the student’s father with a message referencing making the “mother proud.” That could be interpreted as a cultural reference rather than a literal one, so no Fail here.

So, what kind of list use would be a Fail? Referencing children’s age and behavior that are not accurate. This letter from American Express was mailed to a parent with an outer envelope teaser reading “Give a teenager something they can always carry with them.”

However, the recipient’s youngest child is a 35 year old homeowner. The body of the letter talks of teaching financial responsibility more broadly to “your loved ones”, an appropriate message for a middle-aged parent with children 15 – 21. But that was not the case here.


Here is a full-out Fail.

This personalized solo package from an Acura dealer references the recipient’s “pre-owned 2008 Acura RL”, however the recipient does not have an Acura. In fact, he never even set foot in an Acura dealership.

Learning:   Ensure that data on your customer list is accurate, especially when referencing your information with customers.


Allow customers to read the fine print

Fail: Creative   

This fold-out self mailer might be listed on mouseprint for it’s Fail.

The businesses, EAS, appears to have spent a bit extra on printing to include a solid silver color to break though mail clutter. The offer of insulating your home for only $100 is so compelling that it borders on disbelief.  The credibility of the headline is further strained by the reference to “No Money Down / 12 Months No Payment / No Interest Financing".  Hmm, why would those claims be necessary for only $100 worth of servce?  Let’s check out the fine print to find out … What?  You can’t read it?  Well, maybe you can if you have a magnifying glass or zoom in on a scanned image. But the average consumer will not notice and can not read that.

This disclosure* text is in the bottom right corner of the mailer, in white print over a light blue background. The color contrast is inadequate and font appears to be 8 point Arial Narrow, rendering it unreadable.  With a Fail like this, the direct mail solicitation borders on being misleading.  Nearly all offers these days will have some sort of disclosure, but the point of having them is for them to be able to be read.

The piece could also deserve a Fail for creative being heavy on snowflakes while targeting homeowners in south Texas.  It snows here in Houston about once every 3 years.  We care about insulating from heat much more than cool air, even in February.  (As I write this, it is 65 degrees and sunny.)

Learning: Ensure that your disclosure is readable by including the text at a reasonable font size and with adequate color contrast.

* 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.


French Cuff Boutique: Is this supposed to match my tie?

Fail: List   

This postcard arrived from a local boutique.  The mailers knew I am a man -- it is addressed to "Mr Marc B Davis" -- yet went through the expense of sending me a card.  If the intent was to reach the woman of the household, then address the postcard to the woman.  At least hedge a bit by addressing to the "Davis Family" or "Davis Home". 

You can't argue that perhaps it was sent thinking that a man might purchase a gift there, because if that was the case, then a gift idea should be messaged on the mailer.

Learning: If your product is geared towards a specific type of consumer, then mail to only people who match your customer profile.


Is this my last chance? Really, truly?

Fail:  Creative   
I commented before on Money Magazine’s double use of the same Last Chance creative. I received two more that were different from the original, but the same as each other. Here is one of the two:

The package also included a reply mail envelope
The Fail here is again for Creative by claiming this is the Final Notice, twice and after mailing two other packages also marked ‘Final Notice.’  Rather than building upon the prior contacts, the overuse of too much urgency makes each one less responsive.  One alternative would be to include the sequence in the creative.  For example, the second notice could have been marked 'Second Notice' and the third mailer could have been marked 'URGENT.  Third notice', which would both lead to the true 'Final Notice'.

Learning:  In a multi-touch contact strategy, coordinate your sequence of messages to make each one stand out and be believable.