What’s your direct mail done for you lately?

The following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct response marketing. Alternating columnists are David Foley, a specialist in database marketing programs, and Fransi Weinstein, an award-winning creative director. Other than the normal collection...

The following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct response marketing. Alternating columnists are David Foley, a specialist in database marketing programs, and Fransi Weinstein, an award-winning creative director.

Other than the normal collection of bills, here is my mail today: two different direct marketing efforts, two different questions.

The first, from The GM Card, asks intriguingly, What’s your (credit) card done for you lately? Well, each and every one has sent me a statement.

I believe that the credit card business is tougher than it has been for years, mostly because consumers are more informed about the cost of credit and more aware of their options.

As some evidence, I offer three related facts:

1) In recent years in North America, available credit has far exceeded the demand and, as a result, overall response rates to credit card offers have been in free fall;

2) People know that they have too many cards and are actively consolidating their debt; and

3) For the preceding reasons, cardholders expect something tangible for their business – a rewards program, a very competitive interest rate, a relevant charity overlay or, better still, a combination of all of the above.

Some card issuers have been forced to promote the idea that double-digit interest rates are good, which probably will not fly with sophisticated credit buyers. At least one credit card statement included a note like this: ‘To help ease the financial strain of the past holiday season, we are waiving the minimum payment this month. You can, of course, make a payment if you wish. Interest charges will be calculated as usual on any unpaid balance.’ If I recall correctly, a similar notice appeared in the summer, and, should this trend continue, one day soon, the notice will read, ‘To help ease the financial strain often associated with (insert month here), we are…’

With its mailing, The GM Card takes a different approach. Its clean, simple package comprises just three elements – a 3 by 7-inch plain white envelope, single page letter and enclosure, all wrapped around a ‘thank you’ theme. Clearly, the mailing attempts to create preference, by leveraging its raison d’etre (earn a five per cent rebate on your new GM vehicle purchase). The mailing’s enclosure is a true lagniappe, albeit just slightly overstated: two ‘commemorative passes to the 2000 Canadian International Autoshow’, which is being held in Toronto later this month.

Every element of the mailing is personalized, including the passes and entry stubs for a prize that is being offered daily at the show. It makes me wonder…if I use one or both of the passes to get in to the show and then enter the contest at the GM exhibit – both of which are tracked separately – will I wake up the next day to find my local dealer parked in my driveway?

Personally, I hope that this promotion helps GM sell some cars and keeps GM cardholders swiping. The idea of building relationships with customers is refreshing and, as presented in my previous column, necessary in many business sectors. As those who manage credit card brands know, the greatest competition they face comes from all the other cards in our wallet or purse.

The second question is from Mike, a.k.a. Clearnet. Its direct mail piece asks, ‘You know that sick feeling when you really need to reach somebody and can’t?’ I do! This is a good question that deserves a clear answer. But, what is it?

The brochure proclaims that ‘Mike gets you through – fast.’ But, the supporting body copy offers nothing specific in answer to the above question. It reads, ‘Mike(tm) is more than just a digital PCS phone. With Mike’s unique Direct Connect(tm) feature, things happen fast. You press a button, you get through, immediately. No dialing. No ringing. No phone tag. No voice mail jail. Nothing lets you do business faster.’

The next paragraph headed ‘Mike is a pager’ reads, ‘Mike comes with a built-in, fully-loaded alpha-numeric pager with call return at the touch of a button. It lets you know automatically when you have a message.’ The mailer contains much more copy – but none of it cures you of that sick feeling when you really need to reach someone and can’t.

I thought – hoped, even – that Mike had developed technology that would eliminate busy signals and voice mail. Not today, apparently. Maybe tomorrow!

David Foley is a marketing consultant and an instructor in database marketing at York University in Toronto. He may be reached at (416) 253-1224; by fax at (416) 253-4637 or via e-mail at dfoley@idirect.com

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group