Chase: Double the Mail, Double the Fail

Two, two packages in one
I recently received not one but two solicitations for the Chase United MileagePlusExplorer card. The pieces were addressed exactly the same to me. The lack of removing duplicate names is a classic Fail for List.

Is this a side effect of the Continental / United merger?

The inside flap of the self-mailer shows my mileage balance -- a prudent and creative method of demonstrating the potential of the credit card by showing how many miles I can get for acquiring the credit card. However, in this case, the difference between the two mailers also suggests why I received two of them. One reflects my miles balance on my legacy Continental OnePass account while the other reflects my balance on a legacy United MileagePlus account. 

The man holding the credit card on the mailer I received appears to be African-American while the man holding the credit card on the landing page, billboards, and TV ads look like a young Jeff Goldblum. Why the difference? Did Chase attempt to appeal to a presumed heritage based on the fact that my last name is Davis? If so, that would be a Fail for List & Creative because I don’t fit the racial profile.
Chase Bank appeals to an incorrect racial profile -- twice.

  1. Dedupe your solicitation mailing list by name and address. 
  2. Carefully consider when and how to use race-based visuals.


Updating your address list is not always sensible

I can't stop pay-to-play in Houston if I don't live there anymore.
I moved away from Houston more than two years ago. When I registered to vote in my new home county, I formally dropped my Houston voter registration. That is why this recent mailer related to a primary merits a Fail for List. It is a waste of money to reach someone who can't even vote.

Let's say, for the sake of discussion, that I continued to vote in Houston even though I moved away. It would still not be worth the cost to mail to me because Standard Rate mailers like this arrive too late to send an absentee ballot.

Political organizations aren't the only ones allowing their mail to follow me even though I live over a thousand miles away. The YMCA in my old Houston neighborhood would like me to become a member again so I can exercise at the local facilities. That would be going a bit out of the way for a workout.

Leisure Learning Unlimited of Houston continues to send me a schedule for local classes on boating, cooking, and stained glass making. I don't think I'll make the trip to learn to windsurf in the Gulf of Mexico when I can do that in the Atlantic Ocean.
What typically happens is that mass mailers run their mailing list through the USPS National Change of Address database. When the USPS informs the mailer that the recipient has moved, the address is updated and the mail goes to the new address.

That does not make sense for Leisure Learning, YMCA, or the Houston Realty Business Association, but it does make sense for appliance manufacturer Whirlpool, which sent me this package offering a warranty extension. But if they are updating their mailing list to reflect my new address and assume I still have the refrigerator I purchased in Houston, why bother addressing the forwarded correspondence to "Marc Davis or current resident"?

Lesson: There are times when address updates are useful, and times when they are not.  Consider removing people from your business's mailing list if they no longer live in your metropolitan area.


American Express lets mail sink

This blog post by John Kelly of The Washington Post describes his receipt of a postcard with an offer from the the Costa Concordia -- the ship that sank off the coast of Italy.  It includes the now morbidly humorous message, "Immerse Yourself."

If the postcard was mailed prior to January 13, then I suppose the people at American Express started to freak out.  If the postcard mailed after ship and shore met, then this is a Fail for Timing.  Just as airlines typically pull their ads after a plane crash, a cruise ship marketer should pull its marketing communications immediately after a ship sinks.  There is no benefit to reminding prospective customers of a tragedy that is being covered on the evening news.

According to Mr. Kelly, a representative explained that it takes between six and eight weeks from when a brochure is put into creative to when it reaches mailboxes, making it too late to pull the mailing. It indeed does take 6-8 weeks to prepare mail, but it takes only one day to conduct a final review and release the mail into the mailstream.

I was a marketing manager at a company that spent tens of thousands of dollars preparing a national direct mail campaign only to cancel it at the lettershop because of a tragic travel incident.  It was worth the sunk cost (no pun intended) to cancel the campaign and not send mail that could damage the company's brand reputation.

Lesson: Don't force your direct mail out the door or put campaigns on auto-pilot.  Do a final check before every mailing to ensure that your product and offer is appropriate.  Don't mail an offer for a product that recently killed people. 


Don't let your holiday card become Mail that Fails

During my first job out of college, I was fortunate enough to attend the seminar "Winning Direct Mail" led by Joan Throckmorton. One of my key takeaways from her seminar was that successful direct mail should be personal and engaging. This advice should be considered even if the purpose of a communication is simply to recognize a holiday. 

Falling envelopes can make for a happy, snowy holiday.
Much of the holiday mail we receive at work includes a small note or hand-signed signature. It suggests that the sender cares enough about the recipient and their business relationship to personally wish him or her a happy holiday. Sometimes the sender uses the holiday card to show off the company's capabilities, such as this piece from last year, or the following more recent holiday card sent by a major print supplier. 
Inside: Personalization & real signature
This card from Data-Mail intelligently leverages personalization.  Not only is my name personalized on the card, but it appears to be signed by hand. 

In the example below, the print vendor shows off its ability to personalize by including my name in the same typeface and color in the surrounding copy. The back includes a calendar that also demonstrates the ability to personalize content. 

Personalized card, printed signature

Personalized calendar

I consider this card a Fail – in this case for poor list management. The personalized content is for "Marc B." My first name is indeed Marc, and my middle initial is indeed B, but I never refer to myself as "Marc B."  Other people in my office received the same card without a middle initial. I suppose when someone entered my name in the company's database, that person included my middle initial in the first name field. 
The card below is a potential Fail for Creative because it is a greeting card that is neither personal nor engaging.

Was the OE printed on a home PC?
The addresses on the outer envelope were slanted, suggesting it was poorly produced. 
Front cover: hoe, hoe, hoe - funny
Inside: dull & generic
No one signed the card. Was the card from a salesperson, someone I had met at a professional function, someone with whom I used to work, or perhaps an ex-girlfriend? I have a guess, but I'll never know for sure without doing some research. If I don't know the sender, why should I expect the sender to know me or care if I have a happy holiday?
The cover is interesting – with the hoe, hoe, and hoe – but it lacks a humorous payoff inside the card. It simply mentions "Happy Holidays" with a company name.  
A donation will be made in my name to a charity. Nice gesture. But why not choose a charity aligned with the card's theme, such as the Sustainable EarthFoundation?
Lesson: Even business holiday cards should be personal and engaging. If you want to strengthen your business relationships, take a few extra seconds to verify your recipient and sign each card.


Happy Holidays with a Fail from DMA

Even the Direct Marketing Association can have a direct marketing Fail. This one is for Creative. When read in a gmail-style Web browsing interface, the apostrophes and ampersands do not properly appear in body copy. Instead, the reader sees HTML codes such as ‘&#8217’ or ‘&#8212’. I wonder how it would appear if read via America Online.

Lesson: Review and test your email with use on all major email interfaces.


PayPal: Great for payments, Fail for mail

Blind envelopes sometimes offset lack of known brand to improve open rate
I recently received a letter in a blind outer envelope. The only hint of the mailer is the postage indicia from "LFS, Inc." The inside of the letter describes my opportunity to pay for some purchases over time with Bill Me Later® because I am a "Continental" customer. 

This letter has several Fails for Creative:
  • Copy is full-justified, making it difficult to read.
  • All copy is the same font size, including the 9-line disclosure. The only use of boldface is for required legal copy. This makes the letter impossible for a customer to scan.
  • The entire letter is one color, with a logo that appears to be produced on a dot matrix printer.
  • The call to action is difficult to comprehend. Is it to request an account as mentioned in the first paragraph, place an order with a merchant as mentioned in the third paragraph, or go to their website?
  • The word "on-line" is hyphenated. While this is grammatically acceptable, it isn’t a stylistically common usage in consumer communications, potentially distracting readers.
  • The offer is good through "December 05, 202011." A date before the 10th of a month should not have a zero in it, and "202011" is not a real year. Proofread your materials!
  • Every mention of Bill Me Later® includes a registered trademark in superscript. Legally, the registered trademark is required only in a company's first mention in body copy. Also, superscripted text interrupts eye flow and should generally be avoided.
  • Some of the copy is pedestrian. For example, in the third paragraph the customer is asked to place an order for "an amount not exceeding your pre-approved amount." Huh?
  • The letter has a signatory but no signature. This further suggests that it is an impersonal form letter and the company is not caring of the customer.
Hard to scan + Hard to read + Hard to understand = Hard to believe
On the whole, a letter like this will fail to inspire consumer confidence or interest in Bill Me Later. It is a challenge to believe that something is "convenient and safe!" when the sales letter is poorly written and has errors.  Even letters from the federal government look better than this.

PayPal could improve a one-page solicitation letter in many ways, including:
  • Adding color to the package.
  • Positively branding the envelope as from PayPal, a trusted brand, with the PayPal logo.
  • Using balanced and varied typeface sizes.
  • Adding a Johnson Box.
  • Including subheads before paragraphs.
  • Italicizing relevant URLs.
  • Not going into detail about why I was preselected, or at least being correct about the company name.
  • Using full dollar amounts and avoid decimals, e.g. "$5,000" rather than "$5,000.00".
  • Including a signature with the signatory.
  • Proofreading lettershop samples and verifying data field formats.

Lesson: There is so much wrong with this solo letter package that the lesson here is simple. Don't waste a valuable brand to send poor mail like PayPal did.


Experian: No protection or credit for late mail

The letter was designed well, just late.
This letter from Experian was dated October 7 with an expiration date of October 14 and arrived at the recipient's mailbox on October 17.  Classic Fail for Timing.

A reasonable response window for consumer direct mail is 2-4 weeks.  A renewal communication with this level of urgency might get away with a 1-week response window, but only if the customer actually has a week to respond.
Smart outer envelope

Lesson: Mail early and give your customers adequate time to read and respond to your mail.


DMH Marketing Partners & Mail America: Fails for poor DMA prospecting

The annual Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Conference & Exhibition is this week.   If you have ever attended a DMA conference you know that your registration information is shared with prospective vendors that have a booth.  And what does a good direct marketer do with a prospect mailing list?  Mail, of course!  (Maybe there is a joke here: What is the best way to keep the postal service from going bankrupt.  Have a DMA conference every month!)

Looking through the pre-conference mailbag, this looks like the year for QR codes and iPad2 giveaways.  Some of the mail has both – a QR code where you could win an iPad2 for visiting a booth or purchasing a service.  

This piece utilizes a contest concept to motivate people to visit their booth.  Everyone is a “winner” of something of value up to $25,000.  The disclosure that appears in white-on-blue mouseprint states that the odds of winning the grand prize are 1 in 10 million.  Given that there will be not nearly that many people attending the conference, it should be safe to assume that everyone visiting the booth will "win" free direct mail advertising.  This legally proper but misleading contest merits a Fail for Offer.
Creatively, it is not clear from the postcard who is the sender is -- “360° Marketing” or “Mail America”?  The left side of the postcard includes some explanation of services, but much of the copy is too small to read.

Is the company run by an ant,
or will there be an ant farm in the booth?

This postcard from DMH Marketing Partners is one of the most significant Fails for poor Creative design:
  • One side of the postcard is horizontal-intensive while the other side is vertical-intensive.
  • The postcard is the smallest size possible with primarily a white background, making it difficult to find in the clutter of the dozens of other pre-conference mailers.
  • There is not a clear explanation of what the company does or what services it provides.
  • The only Web address on the page is for the DMA conference.  The Web address for the company does not appear.  (Does this suggest DMH does not want to be found?)
  • The messaging does not appear to have any alignment with the company Website.
  • There is not a compelling reason to visit the booth – no gift, contest, person to meet, or topic to discuss other than the vague opportunity to increase responses.
  • As a woman in my office put it, “That bug is just creepy.” 

The marching bugs in the background did not scan well.
  1. Clearly communicate your offer and value proposition.
  2. Offer a compelling, honest reason for a prospective customer to reach out to you.
  3. Know your competition to develop creative that will be noticed.
  4. If you are going to include an animal, use a cute mammal rather than a creepy bug.