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.

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