Timing is everything

Timing, they say, is everything. In truth, of course, nothing is really everything, but timing certainly is important in just about every field of endeavour....

Timing, they say, is everything. In truth, of course, nothing is really everything, but timing certainly is important in just about every field of endeavour.

Take war. Too many battles to mention have been lost by the timely or tardy arrival of one general or another. (The most ironic such situation was probably the Battle of Fort Stevenson during the American Civil War; the Confederates lost that particular conflict because General Early arrived late.

Or take a piece of geography like North America. Columbus had promised his near-mutinous crew that they could return to Europe if they didn’t find land to the west by Oct. 13, 1492. They "discovered" the Bahamas on the 12th.

Or take my address label test.

Time was, I was involved in testing two direct mail packages for a fundraiser to determine whether free address labels should be given to recipients. In September, the "freemium" package and the non-freemium control package were sent out. Results came in and, despite the extra cost, the former won the bottom-line test.

The intention was that the winner would be rolled out in November, and because of the time of year, get an even higher response rate. But for reasons too confidential to go into, the client didn’t mail the winning package until well into December. The result? It generated half the donations that it had during the test.

Why? Timing.

In September, they were the first kids on the block to give away address labels; in December, they were probably 497th. And people are simply less inclined to donate money out of gratitude for being given something they’ve already received from every Tom, Dick and Save The Harriett in the charity arena.

About a year and a half ago, I had another experience with address labels and bad timing. Or at least two fundraisers approaching my friend Generous Joan did.

She’d been on holidays in late August/early September and returned to find 17 kilograms of fundraising appeals waiting for her. Being a kindly soul, she dutifully examined each and every one of the pleading packages that had arrived during her absence. But not being a soul with unlimited financial resources, she had to use some discretion when it came to deciding which not-for-profits were to profit from her generosity.

Two packages that stood out were nay-sayed by her – not because they were bad creatively, but because they were nearly identical and, therefore, were not credible.

Each featured a white number-10 envelope with a standard DM addressing window.

Each had a teaser above it, reading "Special gift enclosed." To the right, in each case, was an oval second window that allowed the recipient to view the personalized address labels that the envelope held. In both packages, the envelope fronts bore no identification as to who the sender was.

Inside, each contained an 8-1/2 by 11-inch sheet of two-colour address labels with a detachable donation form in the upper left-hand corner.

Each also had an 8-1/2 by 11-inch letter printed two colours both sides, typeset in American Typewriter.

And each package included 3-3/4 by 8-1/2-inch buckslip providing information about the respective organization.

One of the biggest differences between these almost-twin packages (and the most inexplicable) was that one of the senders paid 24¢ for metered postage while the other paid 25¢.

With the packages being so similar, you have to presume they were done by the same agency and that they used a formula that had proven successful for them and their clients in the past. And that’s not a problem…unless you send the packages out so closely together that they end up in the same day’s mail.

Timing. These two fundraisers, as well as Generous Joan, can tell you how important it can be.

Sometimes, as with the aforementioned examples, you have control over timing; sometimes it’s out of your hands. Regardless, it can be disastrous when it works against you. Just ask Image Bank.

They sent Knight & Associates a four-colour postcard, the back of which announced that they and The Cousteau Society were, for the first time, making available 1,000 photos for commercial purposes. The front featured a photo of Jacques Cousteau himself.

So what’s the problem? Just that it arrived the day after the national news treated us to a display of a Cousteau Society crew running roughshod over a pod of whales. Yes, there they were on TV, the supposed guardians of the deep, joyously driving their Zodiacs over the backs of helpless whales.

And there was the group’s namesake the very next day, smiling out from the Image Bank postcard. Talk about timing.

Not only was the venerable Jacques undoubtedly turning in his grave at these insensitive antics, there were probably a host of chagrined Image Bank execs wanting the Society crew to join him.

Equally unlucky in their timing were a couple of long-distance carriers whose simple self-mailers happened to arrive in the same day’s mail as one from Telus.

There was nothing wrong with the non-Telus ones and, on a typical day, they would have commanded consideration. But they didn’t arrive on a typical day. They arrived in the same pile of mail as Telus’s. And the latter was just more compelling creatively, featuring a die-cut window on the cover revealing the recipient’s name. When opened, the two-fold mailer showed, in our household’s case, "The Wendy Knight Bundle" on the right-hand side. On the left panel, there was a letter addressing my wife by name.

The mailer dealt mostly with a package deal and barely mentioned long distance. But because it was more involving than the competitor’s, it consumed all of the Knights’ allocation of telecommunications-consideration time for that day.

Unfortunate as their timing was, though, I don’t think it compares to that of Brinkhaus Jewellers.

On Wednesday, April 5, the island ad they had booked appeared on our newspaper’s stock quotes page. That was the morning after the worst day in the history of NASDAQ. Anyone with high-tech stocks that day was bleeding, not just figuratively from the pocketbook, but probably literally from self-inflicted wounds.

And what did the jeweller’s ad say on this darkest of investor mornings? "DOT-COMS BEEN GOOD TO YOU? Consolidate your gains with an equally hot Canadian diamond."

The ad itself was quite appealing. They used a diamond to say "dot" and, although I abhor reverse ads because they invariably cut readership in half, it made their ad look classy and stand out. But the timing?

All you can do is shake your head and wonder whether Brinkhaus’s ad manager joined thousands of newly-poor stockholders on high-rise window ledges that morning.

If you’re a DM victim of bad timing, it’s certainly no laughing matter. But one can’t help but recall that old joke about the doctor phoning a patient after the latter’s test results come back. "I have bad news and worse news," says the doctor, who is then instructed to relay the bad news first.

"You only have 24 hours to live," he says. And what news could be worse than that? he is asked.

"I forgot to call you yesterday."

If you’re an agency that needs copy or a company that needs a direct mail package produced, it may be time to get in touch with Bob Knight at Knight & Associates. He can be e-mailed at b_knight@telus.net.

Google launches a campaign about news connections

The search engine is using archival footage to convey what Canadians are interested in.

Google Canada and agency Church + State have produced a new spot informed by research from the search giant that suggests it is a primary connector for Canadians to the news that matters to them – a direct shot across the bow of the legislators presently considering Bill C-18.

In a spot titled “Connecting you to all that’s news,” the search giant harnesses archival footage reflective of many of the issues Canadians care about deeply, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, truth and reconciliation and the war in Ukraine, to demonstrate the point that many Canadians turn to Google as a gateway to the information and news they’re seeking.

“From St. John’s to Victoria and everywhere in between, when Canadians want to understand or get updated on the most pressing topics, Google connects them to the news sources that provide it,” says Laura Pearce, head of marketing for Google Canada. “All of us at Google are proud to be that consistent and reliable connection for Canadians to the news they’re searching for.”

In some ways, the goal of the campaign was to tap into the varied emotional responses that single news stories can have with different audiences across the country.

“News may be factual, but how people respond to it can be very emotional,” explains Ron Tite, founder and CCO at Church + State. “Importantly, those emotions aren’t universal. One news story can create completely different reactions from different people in different places. Because of that, we simply wanted to let connecting to news be the focus of this campaign. We worked diligently to license a wide variety of actual news footage that we felt would resonate with Canadians.”

The campaign can be seen as a statement by the search provider on Bill C-18 – the Online News Act – that is currently being deliberated by a parliamentary committee. That legislation seeks to force online platforms such as Meta’s Facebook and Alphabet’s Google to pay news publishers for their content, echoing a similar law passed in Australia in 2021. The Act has drawn sharp rebukes from both companies, with Facebook threatening to ban news sharing on its platform.

Google Canada is not commenting on whether this new campaign is a response to C-18, but it has been public in its criticism of the legislation. In testimony delivered to parliament and shared on its blog, Colin McKay, the company’s head of public policy and government relations, said, “This is a history-making opportunity for Canada to craft world-class legislation that is clear and principled on who it benefits.” However, he noted that C-18 is “not that legislation.”

The campaign launched on Oct. 24 and is running through December across cinema, OLV, OOH, podcast, digital and social. Airfoil handled the broadcast production.