Optical illusions make the point

Client: Dow ChemicalProduct: STYROFOAM SMAgency: Hull Direct MarketingOptical illusions played a central role in a direct mail information campaign for Dow Chemical's styrofoam sm brand insulation.Toronto-based agency Hull Direct Marketing designed a series of four mailings over eight weeks that used...

Client: Dow Chemical


Agency: Hull Direct Marketing

Optical illusions played a central role in a direct mail information campaign for Dow Chemical’s styrofoam sm brand insulation.

Toronto-based agency Hull Direct Marketing designed a series of four mailings over eight weeks that used well-known optical illusions to illustrate the difference between perception and reality.

The idea was to debunk two persistent myths among Quebec architects that the use of styrofoam sm could cause structural problems, says project copywriter Stephen Tannenbaum.

The first two mailings addressed the myths head on by providing scientific information that contradicted these perceptions.

The third was a good news story about the product, and the fourth included a personal invitation to a free insulation seminar in either Quebec City or Montreal.

Sent to 4,000 Quebec architects, the mailing generated a 17.2% response rate and exceeded the client’s objectives by 230%.

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

A. I think when the designer and I sat down to work on it, we felt we were talking to people who were similar to us – architects are creative people and we wanted to appeal to them with something that would appeal to us.

We looked for something that was really interesting from a visual point of view.

Q. On what level were you trying to generate a response?

A. I think it was very intellectual. We were trying to say to them, ‘You’ve perhaps been misled by these myths for many years. Look at the facts.’ So it was very much an intellectual response.

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

A. I don’t really want to name pieces. But it’s the pieces that are different, that try and be interesting, that don’t just hammer away at the offer, that appeal to me.

Q. How important is personalizing the letter?

A. Usually, very important. You can talk on a personal level. And that’s not just personalization by name, but also personalization by profession. You have to understand their business.

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

A. They stand out from the other pieces. And that doesn’t only have to be in a really neat way. Some of them stand out in different ways.

Publishers Clearing House, I imagine, are very successful because they are doing the same thing over and over again.

Q. Do you favor long or short letters?

It’s really how much you need to say. And no more.

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

A. I think that’s vital.

When you’re talking to somebody in a letter, you are talking on a personal level. If you get something wrong that’s important to that person, you’re going to turn them off.

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

A. This is where having a background in mainstream advertising comes in – approaching it more the way a creative team in mainstream advertising would approach a television commercial or a print ad, where you keep reminding yourself ‘I’ve got to stand out from the rest.’

It comes down to the concept. And that plays back to everything we said about knowing your prospect and looking for something interesting.

Q. Is there a hierarchy of objectives, creatively?

A. The first one is almost subconscious, and that’s knowing what works. People call them the rules of direct, but I think it’s just understanding how direct works.

The offer must be clearly stated up front. You have to tell them exactly how to respond.

And then it’s making your message interesting, finding out the most important thing that’s going to make them get into your offer.

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

A. I think this depends on your offer. There are times when you should push really, really hard. Most of the time you are going to press for a response, but you’re going to do it in different ways.

This was not hard sell. The tone was ‘This is the reality of something you must understand, and we’d like to tell you all about it.’

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

A. Very, very different answers in different cases. There are times when mass media is a support for direct mail.

When you do have the two working together, there has to be synergy.

You have to be aware of what’s being done in mass media marketing – you have to be aware of the image. You have to make sure that your tone is the same.

Q. How are the rules changing in direct mail?

A. I don’t know that I’m doing anything different than two years ago. It’s always trying to make each piece break through on its own merits.

The technology is improving all the time, there are more opportunities to personalize different elements of the piece, but you have to be careful of that.

If it sounds like ‘Place consumer name here,’ that turns people off. It’s treading a fine line.

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

A. I think it’s getting better all the time. There is some really interesting and exciting work being done.