J&C Blog

Find all the latest marketing trends on the J&C Blog.

Believe it or not: True direct marketing oddities

Posted by Randy Mitchell on November 19, 2014

Direct marketers are generally logical, process-driven people. They don’t like scares or surprises and tend to have a rationale explanation for anything that happens in the course of a campaign.

For example, if one email subject line outperforms another, direct marketers can explain it. And if a focus group prefers one conceptual approach to another, direct marketers can give you a litany of reasons why.

But there are times when even the most methodical marketer has a freak out moment. Sometimes, there are occurrences that are strange, unexpected and truly bizarre. Let’s call these enigmas, “direct marketing oddities.”

The following phenomena illustrate the point. And whether you believe it or not, they’re all absolutely true.

Believe it or not:
The most effective headline was invisible
As a writer, this particular oddity scares me to no end. That’s because it worked without any words. Here’s the story. We were testing outer envelope headlines for a utility client. The headlines that employed direct and official messaging worked much better than options with a slightly more promotional tone. No shocker there. Educating and informing your prospect is one of the top direct mail techniques. However, the option that performed the best was actually a blank outer envelope. It was a “headless headline,” and no words could explain it.

The secret behind this direct marketing oddity
The reason the invisible headline worked was the due to the nature of the sender. The package resembled a bill. That’s key because it was coming from a utility. There was no messaging to help define what was inside and recipients opened it. So in this case, a little mystery did the trick. Was it a bill, a service announcement or perhaps something else? The only way to be sure was to open up and find out.

Believe it or not:
The higher offer scares people away
Another of the top direct mail techniques is to include an offer. As a creative, I have often helped to shape a concept around a giveaway to leverage the offer’s appeal and ensure the communications had maximum impact. Which means a big time offer should deliver big time results. But here’s the freaky part: I can recall several instances when a lower monetary offer actually outperformed a higher one. Why would a $25 gift card smoke one worth $50? That’s just weird.

The secret behind this direct marketing oddity
The secret here is actually the very first word in the title of this blog article: “Believe.” It seems the $50 offer was a little excessive. Prospects didn’t believe it, or more to the point, they were suspect of any product or service that would offer such a generous giveaway. There had to be a catch. On the other hand, the $25 gift card seemed a little more in line with expectations. It was certainly appealing, but not out of the comfort zone.

Believe it or not:
The true star is an afterthought
Some authors of direct mail letters agonize over headlines. Others spend hours writing, revising and refining the body copy. And don’t forget the time it takes to craft an effective sidebar or response device. Granted, those are all essential components in effective direct mail packages. But they still can’t beat the often overlooked afterthought. The most read part of any letter is generally the postscript, or P.S. That means the large headline on the top can’t overpower the simple, single line at the bottom. How is that possible?

The secret behind this direct marketing oddity
The P.S. has always always been the last word in a letter. In this role, it tends to be an important point that the writer simply could not leave out. There’s something big and bold about a headline or subhead. But that little P.S. has personal appeal. It stands out down there at the bottom of the letter. You have to dive in to the deep end of the grammatical pool to read the body copy. But you can dip your toe in the P.S. It’s the compelling final word that demands attention. That’s why it’s a top direct mail technique to make sure your P.S. works as hard as possible. For example, use it to restate the offer and expiration date. That way, the reader knows the benefit and how quickly they have to act.


OK everyone, you can open your eyes now. The scary part is all over.

Well, almost.

Here’s a truly frightening thought: 2 out of 3 marketers say their content marketing is not effective.1 In fact, they think content marketing is a beast.


1. MarketingProfs, B2C Content Marketing: 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends—North America

Topics: Direct Marketing

Recent Posts