DM Deconstructed

In this new report, Strategy Direct+Interactive decided to put several recent direct mail campaigns to the test. We charged a handful of direct agency people with evaluating their peers' work based on its creative and offer. Did it pass your garbage filter? Grab your attention? Was the offer compelling? Well written? What are the best and worst elements? Here's what our experts had to say. (Note: Each sample direct mail was chosen randomly.)

In this new report, Strategy Direct+Interactive decided to put several recent direct mail campaigns to the test. We charged a handful of direct agency people with evaluating their peers’ work based on its creative and offer. Did it pass your garbage filter? Grab your attention? Was the offer compelling? Well written? What are the best and worst elements? Here’s what our experts had to say. (Note: Each sample direct mail was chosen randomly.)

Our Panel

Mona Sharkawy is VP, group account director at Toronto-based Go Direct Marketing (

Susan Carr is president of Toronto-based MC Direct (

Jeff Beck is VP, managing director at Toronto-based Grey Direct (

Dean Maruna is senior VP, creative director at Toronto-based Mosaic Direct (



This piece definitely grabs your attention – it contains a free product that, with a $10 value, is pretty hard to miss or ignore. The bilingual package tends to indicate that there is more interest in saving money than in taking the time/money to target a unilingual piece to a qualified prospect list – which is a little at odds with the obvious expense incurred.

The presentation of copy isn’t really a letter – it’s too promotional and generic to convey the impression of a personalized letter. In fact, the copy seems to be taken directly from product packaging. However, the copy itself clearly states the product benefits and the offer in a very compelling manner.

The package clearly intended to induce trial – it’s obviously not trying to establish a one-on-one relationship – and therefore should be effective in getting the product into people’s hands. It would be interesting to test how a coupon versus a coupon & product does in terms of stimulating trial and demand while holding down cost-per-sale. One thing Gillette could have tried is to enhance its database by including a simple survey in the mailing.

(Carr was unable to provide ratings.)


Obviously having a three-dimensional package arrive in the mail will get noticed, and pique someone’s curiosity to find out what is inside. Let’s face it, everyone loves free stuff! There is a powerful visual and strong line on the box that cleverly communicates the offer – the aggressive box cover is the best element of this example.

The copy is well written, straightforward and quickly becomes very benefit-focused. It provides a strong call to action.

The coupons attached to the letter could have been placed on the bottom of the letter rather than the top. This would be a more consistent with the flow of copy and more logical for the consumer.

Rating: 3 out of 5


This piece certainly passed my garbage filter. Lumpy packages get opened! Mind you, the Mr. Somebody ‘or occupant’ made me feel a little less than special. What’s the purpose of data and personalization if we are going to tell our prospects that it’s not really him we’re presenting this offer to (unlike the AMEX mailing which truly makes the recipient feel privileged, see p.D14). If you’re going to use ‘occupant’ as an addressing medium, then don’t even bother putting a person’s name.

The actual razor is probably the strongest element in the package. The copy was to-the-point but not overly compelling (feature versus benefit-driven).

Gillette could have used the data to create a more personalized DM piece. They could have included a survey to further enhance the database in order to start building an actual relationship with their consumers.

Rating: 2-3 out of 5


First of all, I have to admit I LOVE this product. Gillette is the Mercedes Benz of shaving blades. Everything they’ve introduced is gold.

Three-dimensional pieces like this one are guaranteed to get opened. No one will throw it out without looking inside. 3D is idiot-free that way. So, the real question is, will this piece solicit trial? Absolutely. Gillette knows that once you put one of these babies in a guy’s hand, there’s no going back to BICs. The creative is a little hokey, but effective.

Not only do you get the razor and blades, you get a mini-demonstration of how it works on the letter. A very functional, if not brilliant, piece of direct mail.

The Pharma Plus folks come off looking pretty good to their customers, too – although I know for a fact that Gillette has used at least one other retailer’s database to mail similar offers.

Again, functional copy. Tells enough of the razor and blade technology to win you over. No charm, just facts.

But what’s with the dual signatures on the letter? Clearly, it’s not a personalized message. It’s not even a letter they’re signing. They don’t even know my language preference since they include both English and French versions. I would have made some effort to do separate English and French versions – it looks very mass marketing, almost junky, this way. Honestly, beyond that I’m not sure I’d do anything differently.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5



Stilettos. Black leather. A whip. Exactly what does the S&M imagery say about Microsoft’s resellers? Never mind, I don’t want to know. There’s not much going for this piece. It’s a pretty good representation of the SCREAM-until-they-hear-you school of DM. So you get lots o’ exclamation marks. Contrasting colours. Bold type, italic type, caps – they’re all there. Even the MAD! logo is loud in a sunburst-y kind of way.

But what makes this piece truly regrettable is its utter inconsistency with the Microsoft brand. Rest assured, this one did not get presented to Microsoft’s brand police.

How did Microsoft ever coax Julie Newmar out of retirement?

The copy came straight out of the brief, without missing a beat. There’s not much going on except program details. The creative could have featured more of the rewards, and a little bit more on the MAD! Money idea. I know this is about driving people to the Web for more information, but a little more info would have helped.

I would have started with a thorough understanding of the Microsoft brand – it’s one of the more credible brands in the world. And I would have put more onus on explaining the reward structure – right now, there’s not much reward info teasing me onto the URL.

Rating: 1 out of 5, barely.


This piece went right into the garbage. The bright colours cut through the clutter of everything else in my in-tray, but the colours and visual (is that Batgirl?) did not leave me feeling that this is a legitimate B2B offer. Using visuals that reflect what the product/offer is probably would have made more of an impact.

It was, however, well written. The copywriter did a good job of explaining the program in a limited amount of space. Too bad the design looks like an offer from a copy shop.

The Microsoft logo legitimizes this piece but the creative does little to build the brand.

Rating: 1-2 out of 5


The piece doesn’t grab my attention – it’s colourful, but the postcard format doesn’t imply substance. It appears to be designed to reach a much, much younger audience. Cat Woman??? They’re trying to be too cute, but they lost me. It struck me as an offer for a new video game, and probably wouldn’t get past my garbage filter.

The copy is difficult to read (Why so much copy in a sans serif face? Are they intentionally trying to make it difficult to read?), and the offer is buried. It stimulates absolutely no desire to read or find out what it’s about.

Overall, there’s too much information for a postcard format and no real compelling offer. It’s not likely to attract the interest of any business professional over the age of 25.


In my opinion, the creative for this business-to-business program appears too youthful and risks being discarded as a non-relevant consumer promotion.

The bright colours and provocative Cat Woman visual certainly ensure that the piece gets noticed; however, there seems to be too many elements that are all screaming for your attention and end up fighting each other. Microsoft’s branding on the postcard could have been larger, or more front-and-centre, to provide the program with immediate credibility.

Though the copy does communicate the benefits of the rewards program well, it takes too long to get to them, thus risking losing the reader too early. What seems to be missing from the copy is an understanding of the value of MAD Money.

The piece tries to accomplish too many communication objectives given the limited space of a postcard. The amount of information and messages would suit a different format, either a self-mailer or traditional DM piece, which would provide enough space to more effectively communicate the program.

The other strategic option would be to scale back the copy and use the postcard as an initial teaser to create interest and excitement for the program. The details would then be delivered with the planned outbound e-mail which subsequently would drive customers to the Web where there would be ample space to communicate all of the program features and benefits.

Rating: 2 out of 5

American Express


By showing the card visual through the window, the envelope gives away too much. With the proliferation of credit card acquisition mailings in the market, an obvious solicitation such as this one stands the risk of being discarded before being opened. The outer envelope should have been designed using a headline around the rich offer or a more corporate-looking envelope from Air Miles – an avid points/miles junkie would only need to see the logo from their loyalty program to motivate them to open the envelope.

The letter is very well written and leads members to believe they have been exclusively selected for this offer. It also does a great job in communicating both the Air Miles and credit card benefits in a simple and concise manner. The offer of 100 Air Miles is very rich and strengthened by the low promotional interest rate on balance transfers. A well written, benefits-driven letter combined with a very rich offer should produce strong results. The use of a buckslip also helped reinforce the rich offer. Perhaps the letter could have addressed why individuals were selected. This represents an excellent opportunity to thank members for their loyalty by recognizing their importance. A simple thank you often goes a long way.

Rating: 4 out of 5


This package doesn’t really grab my attention. It immediately indicates that it is an offer from AMEX involving Air Miles, but there is no other inducement or compelling reason to encourage opening. It probably wouldn’t get past my garbage filter.

The offer is buried in the sixth paragraph, and the letter presentation doesn’t really take advantage of proven direct mail techniques: it appears too wordy and talks entirely about the product, NOT what the product will do for me and why I must have it. It doesn’t answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’ proposition. And given the over-abundance of credit card offers that scream low introductory rates and bonus savings, this offer/card proposition seems too tame.

Although the buckslip stands out, the package doesn’t generate any real interest – it doesn’t give me any compelling arguments for why I must apply today.


For those who already have several credit cards, this package represents one of many other credit card offers that are increasingly clogging mailboxes. Had the bonus reward miles offer been mentioned on the OE, I may have been more inclined to open the envelope. Without the offer on the envelope, how does the recipient differentiate between this mailing and the multitude of Capital One credit card offers that land in the mailbox on a bi-weekly basis?

The letter was well-written – it clearly outlined the benefits of the Amex Air Miles credit card. And the offer itself is actually quite strong. I particularly liked the Rewards Certificate – it made me feel that I was giving something up by not responding to this offer.

One of the best elements of this piece is the application form: it’s user-friendly and easy to fill out.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


I’ve always found this particular dual branded card a bit of an odd duck – the mass market appeal of Air Miles and the exclusive nature of Amex. That aside, there’s no denying that the use of the dual branding is powerfully and simply represented on the envelope. If you buy off on either brand – Amex or Air miles – you’ll probably open it.

The same simplicity is carried into the other components. The letter has none of the junky collection of underlines and bolds and italics that you still see a lot of, the kind that doesn’t allow you focus on any single thought. The application seems simple enough, although the top portion under the card is a little too busy for my liking – the tracking codes and five different font sizes and weights don’t help the cause. A big concern: There is no immediate gratification and/or offer to be found when opening this piece up. A Johnson Box, not that there needs to be one in every letter, would have been an ideal place to flag the offer or begin creating some sort of anticipation/excitement for the message to follow.

I had the great fortune of cutting my teeth on Amex, and I still love the brand a lot. But I have to wonder about the letter. It’s very well written, only, it’s the same letter Amex has been mailing for 25 years now. I mean, is there anyone left in North America who hasn’t been part of Amex’s ‘small and select group’? And if there are folks who haven’t made the cut before, will they believe the exclusivity angle when there is a paltry $15,000 annual income minimum? I guess if it’s a winning formula, why tamper with success?

This is classic, tried-and-true direct mail. It relies on time-honoured DM principles, and takes absolutely no chances (not always a bad thing).

Rating: 3 out of 5