Showing posts with label Mail That Fails. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mail That Fails. Show all posts


SpotHunter: How to Hunt for Customers

Last week, I received this flyer:

SpotHunter flyer
SpotHunter flyer
1-sided. Copy appears at a bit of a slant

It arrived in a blind envelope addressed to the impersonal "Current Resident." It is obviously marketing mail. IMHO, it has all the makings of low-end j--- mail. (I'm not writing out the word because I avoid inappropriate 4-letter words on this blog.) The envelope appears impersonal, it has no return address, and it includes a spotty-looking postage permit stamp. 

SpotHunter Outer Envelope
Simple Blind Outer Envelope.
No return address.

I opened it because, well, I love direct mail marketing. But would a typical consumer open it? I don't think so. I noticed several of the same pieces -- addressed to "Current Resident" at other units in my building -- placed in a well-named trash receptacle located in the mailroom.

Mailroom Trash Receptacle
(Inappropriate 4-letter word blacked out)

Inside, there is an impersonal flyer for an app called SpotHunter. The headline reads "Have Trouble Finding Open Street-Parking? Let Us Help." In this context, the hyphen between "Street" and "Parking" is improperly placed. Plus, there's no period at the end of the headline's second sentence. These types of errors may appear minor; however, this type of errors often subconsciously distracts readers from the content and reduces confidence in the product itself. That is a minor Fail for Creative.

Overall, the flyer appears to clearly convey a message: Use this app to find parking and help other people find parking spots. 

Is this really going to work? I don't know. What I do know is that in most of New York City, open parking spots are hard to find and disappear quickly. New Yorkers get into fist fights over parking spots. Even if an app yells "There is an open parking spot 3 blocks away!", the spot may not be open when the driver arrives there two minutes later. And let's not forget that touching your mobile phone while driving is illegal in New York. So, if one cannot utilize the app while driving and a driver cannot expect that a spot appearing on the app is truly available, how useful is it? I guess the app needs scale to be useful; however, the more people that use the app to find parking, the more people are going to go after that precious parking spot a few blocks away.

Well, I can't try out the app -- for me, it is currently useless. It is available only on iPhones, and my phone uses the Android operating system. In fact, about half of the mobile phones in use today are using the Android operating system. So, upfront, half the people who received the mail cannot use the product. That's a Fail for Targeting.  

Given that it appears  everyone in my Queens building received the flyer, I assume SpotHunter carpet-bombed the neighborhood. That's another mistake, because many people in Queens do not have cars. They use mass transit to get around. According to NYCEDC, 62% of Queens residents have cars. In my neighborhood, that percentage is closer to 40%. So that means about half of the 40% people receiving the mail cannot use the product -- e.g. 80% of the mail is truly j---, furthering the Fail for Targeting.

If I were responsible for a marketing campaign for SpotHunter, I would first suggest not using direct mail. Consider perhaps a guerrilla marketing campaign such as placing flyers on cars parked in the neighborhood. Annoying, yes, but at least you are reaching people who have cars to park. A highly geotargeted online effort could also be a good use of limited spend. Some social media platforms allow you to target people who self-identify as having cars. Or consider targeting based on attributes likely to be associated with car use. Then segment down to the type of operating system being used. 

If I were required to utilize direct mail without targeting, I would:

  • Create a simple postcard that conveys the sales proposition. One side would include the headline benefit statement with a visual supporting message, while the address side would include supporting benefit statements and the call to action to Download the app for free.
  • Or, create a flat and geographically target homes with residents likely to benefit from the app using the USPS Every Door Direct Mail tool.
  • Drop mail as soon as the app is available for Android.


  1. Make sure your content is free of grammatical errors.
  2. If your app is available only on an iPhone, you are missing half the market.
  3. If your mail has a simple message, consider a postcard rather than a flyer in an envelope.
  4. If you are targeting geographically rather than individually, consider using the Every Door Direct Mail service from the US Postal Service. 


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.


  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, 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.


Chase Credit Cards: When a fee is not a fee

Outer Envelope

Earlier this year, I wrote how a Presidential Plus credit card offer from Chase was a Fail for Creative and Offer. The letter was confusing and defensive and sent at a time when it was not clear to the consumer — and perhaps to Chase — which cardmember benefits would be available with the card.

Stronger Cover Letter

A more recent version of the solicitation arrived in my mailbox. Rather than cite the merger, the letter ignores it.  Smart move. Instead it leads with a competitive rebuttal to the AmericanExpress Platinum Card, leveraging the fact that people with Chase’s Presidential Plus Card can visit the Presidents Club, while those with a Platinum Card have to wait for their flight with the little people. The letter is smartly signed by someone from Continental Airlines rather than someone from United Airlines. In this respect, the letter is a dramatic improvement.

The package merits a Fail for Creative and Offer for Chase’s communication of the benefit of no foreign transaction fees. Over the past decade, nearly all the major banks have increased their foreign transaction fee from 1% to 3%. In fact, until a few months ago, only Capital One did not charge the fee. For a $5,000 business trip — including lodging, dining, transportation and other expenses — 3% in transaction fees means $150 in costs for engaging in normal purchasing behavior. A savings of 3% in and of itself is more attractive to international business travelers than frequent flyer miles with an implied benefit of ½% to 2% of the purchase amount.

Colorful insert
Back of colorful insert with benefit description
The benefit is cited in a colorful insert but not the cover letter. That is a bit of a miss. The insert references checking the back of the cover letter, which does mention (though in small type) that there are no foreign transaction fees. But the Fail is that the official legal communication of pricing information, the Schumer Box, lists in clear 12-point typeface in the Fees section “Foreign Transactions: 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars.”
The back of the letter mentions "Foreign Transaction Fee: None" however ...

... the Schumer Box, the legal documentation of account terms, mentions 3% Foreign Transaction fee
The package included a color benefits brochure
Also, why is the response URL The card being sold is the Presidential Plus Card that reads on the card “Presidential Plus”. So why not use,, or even

  1. Communication of offers and benefits should be consistent throughout your package, especially when legal documents are involved.
  2. If your product has a strong benefit, communicate it in your cover letter.
  3. When a response method is online, use a URL that properly describes the product or is easy for a consumer to remember.


Remember to recall your collateral

Here is an example of a Fail from Safeway for Creative and Timing.  A chronology:
  • 4/16/10: Safeway reopens its store in Waterfront Station, Washington DC. Many senior executives show up for the store opening.
  • 4/18/10: I visit the Safeway and apply for their Safeway Club Card.  The brochure mentions benefits such as reduced prices on items and the ability to earn United Airlines frequent flyer miles.
  • 6/18/10: I receive the letter below dated June 11 and postmarked June 14.

It took Safeway two months to get around to informing me that I would not earn United Airlines miles for my purchases because the program was discontinued in February.  This means that despite the high level of publicity for the new store opening, Safeway did not bother to update their club enrollment brochures - even though the program had ended six weeks before I applied for their club card. 

The letter does not express any remorse or regret that a program was offered to me that had already expired.  (Are they suggesting that it's my fault I included my United Airlines frequent flyer number?)  Furthermore, the letter closes by stating that Safeway will process my application.  This means that after two months, the company had yet to take action.

The letter copy itself could be improved:
  • Cut the passive verbs, i.e. open with "We received ." rather than "We have received ."
  • Don't mention "information included" if there was no information included. The only thing in the envelope was the letter.
  • Personalize the experience.  Have a real person in customer service sign the letter, even if only a first name.
It's not just brochures that can become out of date -- direct mail and e-mail offers can also expire.   I recently received a packing slip that included a coupon for my next purchase that expired four months before the package shipped. 
Learnings: Do not use out of date brochures or other collateral.  If you make a mistake, apologize for it.  The tone of a customer service letter should be active and personal.  If you mention something is included with a letter, include it.

UPDATE 9/21/10
My Subway Club Card still has not been processed.  For the past two months, whenever I shopped at the store I would use their generic card rather than input my phone number.  I called their customer service department and was told that they their processing is backlogged.  Did my application not get processed because they sent me this letter?


Capital One: What's in my wallet? Information I did not request.

I recently received a new credit card from Capital One.  The card carrier is smartly designed to have a feel of a personalized experience.  The layout and copy are consistent with Capital One's No Hassles branding.  Benefits are clearly explained.  Impressive use of space -- in the block of under where the new card was placed there is a phone number to call with questions regarding my account.

Then why consider a Fail for Creative?  The outer envelope teaser: "The information you requested is enclosed."  I did not request information from Capital One.  The replacement card was not requested.  It was automatically sent to replace an expiring card.

On the other hand, Capital One can't paste on the outer envelope "Your new credit card is enclosed."  That would invite postal theft.  Would a better message be "Important information about your account", or perhaps no message at all?

During my tenure at Citi Cards, we proved through testing that a customer would open just about any mail that was labeled with the Citibank return address.  In offers targeting existing customers, a lack of envelope teaser often had the same or better list yield compared to those with a promotional teaser. 

Perhaps Capital One believes that for existing card customers branding alone is not enough to ensure an optimal open rate.

Learning: Consider the message on your outer envelope carefully.  If you have an active existing customer relationship, you may not need any message.  Focus on the message's appropriateness given the contents and recipient.


When a Hot List cools off and moves out of town

I wrote several days ago how several moving-related companies mailed to me after I already left town, but I did not expect this to arrive from Thomas United Transfer and Storage.

Their solo mail package deserves Fails for List and Timing. Not only did Thomas Transfer mail the moving offer several weeks late, they mailed it to my new address.
Setting that aside, this is not a bad creative package but could use some tweaks. The outer envelope includes a teaser that is relevant to the consumer – practically everyone who moves needs boxes, so why not get some free. After all, “free” is the most beautiful four-letter word in the English language. The package leads with a friendly cover letter that communicates positive features of the company. Meanwhile, the flyer is more promotional and describes the free box offers.

Some ways creative treatment could be improved in the letter:
  • Be consistent with the grammar. Some of the cover letter is written in the first person plural, while the close states, “Please call me …” even though two people signed the letter.
  • Actually include a hand signature of Dawn and Christina. Represent who those people are – the owners? Salespeople? Moving coordinators?
  • Consider more benefit statements, i.e. low-stress, piece of mind. 

At least Thomas Transfer and Storage only wasted marketing money. I wish they had reached out to me earlier so I would not have ended up with Texas Home Movers damaging and losing my goods.

Learnings: Use a hot list quickly before it cools off.  Don't address-correct a solicitation for moving supplies.  If the person moved, don't mail.