‘Curiosity factor’ aids Wood Gundy success

Client: Wood GundyProduct: Asset Advantage AccountAgency: The Henderson Robb GroupPeter N. Henderson, president and creative director of Toronto-based advertising agency The Henderson Robb Group, attributes the success of a direct mail piece it created for financial services client Wood Gundy to...

Client: Wood Gundy

Product: Asset Advantage Account

Agency: The Henderson Robb Group

Peter N. Henderson, president and creative director of Toronto-based advertising agency The Henderson Robb Group, attributes the success of a direct mail piece it created for financial services client Wood Gundy to ‘the curiosity factor.’

‘A Gift to You’, a small booklet offering Wood Gundy clients free enrolment in its fee-based Asset Advantage Account, had its pages linked together with red ribbon.

As the recipient turned each page, the ribbon was arranged to give new meaning – ‘no red tape,’ ‘no loopholes,’ ‘no strings attached.’


Henderson says his company developed ‘four different concepts.

‘This [the booklet] was the most complex, but the client gravitated toward it immediately,’ he says. ‘It’s the type of thing that you pick up and keep opening and closing.

The mailing had two objectives – as a reward to the client, and as a lead generator for Wood Gundy’s financial consultants, says Henderson.

He says the booklet was mailed to 7,000 Wood Gundy clients in English and French Canada and generated a 14% response rate, between the original mailing and a follow-up to non-respondents six weeks later.

Q. Why was this piece successful? What made it work?

A. It was detailed very clearly what was in it for the client. The creative message was there’s no red tape, no hidden loopholes and no strings attached. That was made extremely clear to them through the physical construction of the piece.

It was a very personable piece. And I don’t mean that it was personalized, because there’s a lot of that around.

Anybody who received this piece would have felt that Wood Gundy had gone to a fair amount of trouble to offer them something of value.

Q. On what level were you trying to generate a response – an emotional or intellectual level?

A. Both really. First of all, emotional. It’s Christmas time and here’s a gift. We’re not asking you to sign anything, to spend any money, or commit to anything.

The intellectual level is ‘Why wouldn’t I take advantage of this offer?’

Q. Excluding your own work, what have been some of the best examples of direct mail?

A. Lexus was extremely effective and it showed up in the awards.

To launch an automobile through direct marketing was an extremely gutsy move, but extremely bright on the part of the people who developed the strategy.

Going back a ways, the American Express Gold Card was really good. And Apple’s done some really good work.

Q. What qualities do successful direct mail pieces have in common?

A. In my opinion, simplicity. The message has to be delivered in a straightforward, benefit-driven manner.

The recipient must understand very quickly what’s in it for them and what’s expected of them.

The materials are extremely important. It must look like something they want to handle.

Immediate benefit is key, as is a well-thought-out methodology of getting them from the benefit to the ‘how to’ to take advantage of it.

Q. How important is personalizing the letter?

A. In a very impersonal world, any personalization is somewhat of an advantage. People respond better to something with their name on it, instead of ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’, or ‘Attention: Head of Household.’

But I wouldn’t go out on a limb and say it’s going to make or break a direct mail effort because people are also smart enough to understand that their names are being traded on the markeplace.

The personalization is a component, not the be all and end all.

Q. Do you favor long or short letters?

A. It really depends on what you’re trying to sell. I would suggest that for the most part, the sooner you can get to the point, the bettter.

If you have something of value, you can communicate it succinctly and still get good results.

Q. How important to the success of the direct mail piece is knowing your prospects?

A. Very important. Because that comes back to understanding what you have to say to the prospects to motivate them to respond.

That’s why list development is almost as important as the creative.

Somebody who is [aged] 55 can see their retirement on the horizon. You’re going to speak to them very differently than you’re going to speak to somebody who is 40 and thinks they are never going to get old.

Q. People are bombarded with direct mail offers every day. How do you make yours stand out from the rest?

A. The recipient has to see right away what’s in it for them. You must clearly define the benefit in an intriguing manner, so the recipient wants to find out more.

You have to have the right list, you have to have a meaningful offer, and you must make it easy for the respondent to get more information.

Q. Is there a hierarchy of objectives, creatively?

A. I don’t know how much research there is to back this up, but sometimes it just comes down to gut feel.

We start with the concept, usually a good copy line. Although I have to be honest, sometimes the art director has a interesting concept visually, and then we develop a copy line around it. It isn’t a science.

Q. How hard should you press for a response in a direct mail offer?

A. Again, it depends on what it is you’re selling. You have to give the recipient credit for having a brain, and understanding that you are trying to sell them something.

When we are doing work for Wood Gundy, we tend not to knock them over the head, because we don’t want to be perceived as junk mailers.

Q. Do you see direct mail primarily as a support for mass media advertising or as a stand-alone medium?

A. For financial services, it’s the other way around. It’s generally supported by advertising. It is the No. 1 medium for us. For something else, it can work very well as a support.

It depends on overall strategies.

Q. How are the rules changing in direct mail – what are you doing in creative that you might not have done two years ago?

A. Like anybody, you’re always trying to look for something different. You’re trying to present something unexpected. But you can’t always do that. Sometimes the client wants a letter.

Q. If you look at the winners of this year’s RSVP Awards, what trends do you see creatively?

A. I see a lot of good art direction. A lot of good illustration. But I still see a lot of corporate things looking very corporate.

I guess the only trend I can really identify is that people seem to be getting closer to the client, understanding who the recipient is.