The ‘simple’ answer

Did you see that Seinfeld episode where Jerry meets a girl who likes to spend her days naked in his apartment because she believes that 'naked is good.' Near the end of the show Jerry too begins parading around home in his birthday suit, until the girl protests: 'There's good naked and there's bad naked.'
It's the same with simplicity in direct mail: there's good simple and there's bad simple.

Did you see that Seinfeld episode where Jerry meets a girl who likes to spend her days naked in his apartment because she believes that ‘naked is good.’ Near the end of the show Jerry too begins parading around home in his birthday suit, until the girl protests: ‘There’s good naked and there’s bad naked.’

It’s the same with simplicity in direct mail: there’s good simple and there’s bad simple.

I got to thinking about that a couple of weeks ago when I received two simple pieces of direct mail on the same day. One was a self-mailer from Aquent, the people who hook companies and agencies up with freelance and full-time creative and production people. The other was an envelope mailing from a ministry of the government of British Columbia.

Because creativity is their lifeblood, Aquent must have been tempted to turn out a self-promo mailing that was a creative mind-blower…to let loose their international stable of writers, designers and creative directors to produce a piece that would demonstrate their talents to their fullest… to give their production people carte blanche when it came to bells and whistles like die cuts, pop-ups and process colour printing.

But they resisted the temptation. What they created really isn’t that striking, if you’ll pardon the pun that will be apparent in a moment. It just works.

Aquent produced a 6′ x 7.5′ self-mailer that resembles a book of matches. The cover says ‘Creative Matches’ and shows an illustration of a flaming match. Inside, the copy tells their story and, yes, features some match-related puns, e.g. ‘Don’t just get a match. Get a sure-fire thing.’

I wouldn’t tout this as a creative barn-burner. But in its simply focused way, it drives home Aquent’s message: We match creative people to your needs. That’s it. And that’s enough.

British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks decided to take the simple route, too, in the other direct mail piece I mentioned. But the only similarity between its effort and Aquent’s is that the former would have benefited from the expertise of the latter.

I don’t know what the Parks Ministry’s objective was or what its strategy was or even who their target was. I just bet someone in its Discover Camping department said, ‘It’s time to send something out in the mail. Keep it simple. Maybe mail out our brochure.’

It’s the only explanation I can come up with as to why they would send me a #10 closed face envelope with nothing on it but my addressing details and their logo and why, inside, there was nothing but a two-colour folder that must be their fulfilment piece. Measuring 19.5′ x 9′ flat, it was just a recitation of their camping rules, regs, and prices.

Surely the mailing couldn’t have been designed for people who have been camping in B.C. because such folks already know all that info. And don’t tell me it was created for non-campers either, as there’s no romance or mention of the joys of camping on the Left Coast. The only people who could possibly appreciate this folder are those who phoned in asking for more information. But I didn’t ask for it. And I know they didn’t send it to me by mistake. If they had, the envelope would have borne first-class postage like any other fulfilment mailing; this was sent out Admail to who-knows-how-many thousands of unsuspecting mailboxes.

Here’s a case where taking the simplest route was the most wasteful. All that money blown on postage could have been better spent to save some of the hospitals, seniors homes and courthouses that are being closed in B.C. because of budget constraints. The trees that went into making the folder and envelope could have ignited some delight had they been burned by a vacationing family in a campfire.

And if you’re determined to take the simplest and cheapest route no matter how inappropriate, why not go whole hog by ditching the envelope and its attendant cost and turning the folder into a self-mailer?

It’s not always easy to do things both simply and well. As Mason Cooley once wrote, ‘Simplicity is a strict taskmaster.’ Or as Dr. Bob would put it in his instructional way, ‘Simple: good. Lazy: bad.’ Of course, to all of this, Mr. Seinfeld would simply say, ‘Yada, yada, yada.’ But, to him, even the serious subject of simple DM is a joke.

Despite having no admiration for Discover Camping’s direct mail program, Bob Knight rates the B.C. provincial parks system as nothing short of excellent and plans to take advantage of it again this summer. In order to pay for his sojourn from city life, he continues to write copy for agencies and produce direct mail, integrated media, and e-campaigns for advertisers. You can get hold of him at b_knight@telus.net or Campsite 231 at Miracle Beach Provincial Park.