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The Exhibit Hall Mail Box Story
by Ray Jutkins

It's been a long time since I missed the USA Direct Marketing Association Annual Conference.

Each year a couple to three weeks prior my mail box, as yours, begins to fill. With many invitations to all sorts of "good" happenings in the host city.

Breakfasts, receptions, "award" banquets, evening cruises, countryside tours, special dinners and other unique offerings.

Plus, of course, an almost countless number of requests to "Come see us at DMA Booth #9876 to get your FREE zyxw." This year I counted my mail. This is what I learned:

A total of 68 different exhibitors sent me mail. One, an international group, sent 2 different invitations, mailed from their country with a very USA style looking flag stamp — for a total of 69 pieces of mail.

Only 9 got to me after I'd departed for the convention — a major improvement over past years. One arrived in my office the closing day of the conference.

The most popular format was a post card. 17 were regular size and 14 jumbo — a total of 31. One was shaped like the premium they were offering for visiting their exhibit. Several others were "clever" with shape.

An even dozen sent a self-mailer. Rarely were 2 the same size or shape — fewer still a conventional size or fold. Format for the self-mailers were all over the place. One included a rather unique die-cut.

Envelope packages were also popular ... 21 invites came in an envelope. Of the lot 13 were #10 size, 6 were larger and 2 were smaller.

A newsletter format was used by another.

And 4 sent something 3-dimensional.

Quality was all over the ball park. Several of the letter packages and a single post card were black/white — with no color. Most were 4-color, the rest 2 or 3 colors.

Several firms maintained their advertising theme in their mail. Same graphic look and style. Two stood out:

... the first from Polk Choice Mail, with those horrid cobra snakes dancing around a mail box, and

... the United States Post Service, with the same look and style of their ads and mail for the last couple of years.

While were talking Post, Canada Post used a four-color jumbo self-mailer with a fishing theme. They included a useful 15 month calendar on one panel. Another made an offer for dropping off the response card at their booth. The "coupon" was perforated like a postage stamp.

Several houses used the mail to show off their stuff. First Data Solutions / Donnelley Marketing used a #14 envelope package with a full color shaped die-cut piece ... and an ugly black/white response card. Must of had it laying around and decided to use it up. No letter or cover note.

Johnson & Quin designed a most attractive self-mailer. Their theme was "relax". They offered a 5-minute stress-reducing neck and shoulder massage at their booth. And a FREE gift, too.

They talked "stress-reducing production solutions".

It is always amazing how few really understand direct mail is a read medium. And learn from the experts about such things as color, type style and size, layout and format for reading.

The J&Q is a good example of many, many "mistakes". Although they are certainly not alone. The majority of the mail received broke one or more of the basic principles for readable direct mail!

Almost all the type in the J&Q piece is sans-serif. Some of the headlines are serif — which could be sans. On one panel the lines of type go from top to bottom — north to south — instead of across the page — west to east, as expected. There are a few languages in the world which read that way. English is NOT one of them.

Why do they do that?

IBM sent what at first looked like a mail-order package for a Stephen Covey product. The specially manufactured envelope is 6x9 and in color all the way ’round. A "live" first class stamp is used to mail. The package included a personalized letter and separate response card/survey.

Except for the address personalization on the letter (which was a horrible all CAPS, and nothing like any of the other personalization in the package), the piece was very readable.

The letter had a 2 color running headline. The paragraphs were short and very readable ... although they did need to be indented. None were.

The P.S. closing the short letter was perfect; it repeated the offer — to drive the reader to their booth for the Covey premium.

My company name is long and that does cause a problem for some personalization. For IBM it was no problem on the letter ... it did not work on the reply card. And "no", I do NOT want to hear why.

For Western Union a MAILGRAM was used to drive you to the USPS Western Union booth. Novel idea!

BellAtlantic slapped a label on the #10 envelope. And inserted a black/white "Enter to Win!" sheet printed or copied poorly one side only. Oh, and then included a poorly written letter.

The opening paragraph is far too long, all the paragraphs are too long, there are no paragraph indents, no P.S. all sans-serif type and no personalization. Dear Attendee" was their greeting.

This is good direct mail?

Deluxe Corporation used a #14 envelope with a label. Inside you find a 4-color die cut brochure and no letter. They mailed first class meter mail.

Solar Communications used a very colorful plastic looking / feeling envelope. With teaser copy front and back about this years convention. Inserted are several more color pieces. Including a very nice booklet telling their story.

What Solar did not do was include a letter. This I call a mistake — direct mail gets stronger with a letter. This package could definitely have used one. To reference their newsletter, to "walk" you through the booklet AND drive you to their stand.

Nahan Printing sent the only "sound" piece. In their booth they had a high performance race car. When you open their self-mailer you "hear" the car in action.

The copy is simple; suggesting you "pull in ... we'll show you how Nahan can help you keep your direct mail projects running strong."

This is obviously a rather expensive first class piece of mail. And got my attention. No doubt I'd work the type face — all sans-serif for direct mail is not the way to go. Yet, I'd guess this piece, because it stood out from the pack, gained additional traffic.

3-D mailers get attention. A box with air holes in it and the phrase "It's ALIVE" on the outside will be seen. What you do with it is something else.

My copy of this mailer arrived late. And "smashed". Shaped like a trapezoid, it's no wonder. Doesn't fit any handling equipment — probably tough to box, let alone bag.

Inside in the bottom of the box and on one of the inserts they quickly make clear whatever "it" is, it is NOT in the box. It is "out there".

It is confusing as to who sent this package. I think it is the Duplication Factory — which makes some sense. As they talk about "sight, sound, motion, and emotion". They mention videotape, CD-ROM and diskette. And you can get a FREE kit by calling an 800 number or mailing a card to "It's ALIVE".

A 4 panel fold up piece has 2 blank sides. Explain that if you can. This piece looks like creative got a hold of it without direction.

My guess is this mailer did not do much. And if this was a contest these guys were not winners.

Structural Graphics sent a structural graphic. A fold-up full color "poster" style piece with a number of "structural graphics".

The mailer came in a 6½ x 9 glassine envelope. A label on the address card — the letter non-personalized. The type face was something odd — and on the poster all reverse type. Of course the entire back of the poster was empty of any message.

Ladies and gentlemen, nobody reads the white space! Why do they do this?

The story they tell is a Star-Trek style "mission". All in good fun. With several offers.

Guessing again — this mailer, in spite of all it's obvious "faults" probably performed rather well. The tongue-in-cheek way of getting attention more than likely did just that — got them the attention they sought.

That's it for this year. See you next time ’round.
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About Ray Jutkins, October 3rd, 1936 — January 6th, 2005. Ray was one of the NMOA’s most generous contributors. Over the years Ray supplied the NMOA with hundreds of tips and articles for members. This is just one of many. Ray worked with B-2-B and Consumer clients throughout the world ... including USA, Canada, Mexico, Asia, the South Pacific, Europe, the Middle-East, Central & South America, Africa. Keep an eye out for more of Ray’s marketing tips and how-to articles in the pages of Direct Marketing Digest and the article archive on the NMOA website.

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