90: 6 Weird Intruders in Your Mail Box

IntrudersI love snail mail.

So, I register for mailing lists all the time.  I like to see what corporate America is producing in their metropolitan ad agencies and what auctioneers create with their brochure mills or local print shops.  I don’t see “junk mail.”  I see lessons in how to capture attention and how not to get trashed in the first pass through the stack.  I’ve got a storage bin filled with competition-worthy samples, and I’ve developed a list of the ways auctioneers ignore the purpose of advertising.

Advertising should do three things:
(1) capture attention
(2) inform
(3) call to action

In other words, your media needs to make a good first impression, hold that attention, and then leverage its impact to evoke a specific response.  The first step and the transition to the second step are typically where I see auctioneers stumble.  They assume that the recipient is as interested in what they’re selling as they are and that the recipient will interact with an advertisement as though they already know the content will interest them.

Most auction brochures and postcards I receive make me shake my head—more times than not because of the mailer panel.  The mailer panel is the first impression panel for the vast majority of the people on your mailing list.  Don’t make your first impression like these guys I’ve met at my mailbox:

The Shady Lawyer
If you get on enough auctioneer mailing lists or peruse enough advertising competition entries, you’ll find a mailer panel that shows the auction company name and logos and their contact information—and nothing else but the auction terms.  Before you ever know what they’re selling, you’re given all the indemnifying conditions of what you can and can’t do in regards to something being sold—something not shown nor described.

If you walked into a retailer, they wouldn’t stop you at the door to read the fine print from your pending receipt.  Why would a retailer—or an auctioneer—start their advertising that way?  They tell me it’s because that’s the only place left to put the terms.  These auctioneers believe the mailer panel is the leftover space, despite it being maybe the most important space of the entire piece.

The Conspiracy Theorist
I also get pieces whose mailer panels hold not much more than a small (often illegally reproduced) map on them, sometimes with directions.  Like the shady lawyers, these auctioneers assume the space next to your address is the junk drawer of the advertising kitchen.  If there were more than one Area 51, you could make the case that maybe these auctioneers might be selling restricted real estate.  We’re told there’s an important place; we just don’t know what’s going on there.  Think about it: why would anyone be interested in a map that comes with no reason to use it?  And who keeps a map to a place they don’t know if they want to visit?

The Polygamist
Every time postage rises, more auctioneers consolidate their mailings, sometimes by designing more than one auction into a piece but more often by stapling and/or tabbing multiple brochures together and mailing them as a combo pack.  This can be a smart strategy, if the auctions are for similar assets that would have been mailed to the same list anyway.

The problem comes when only one of the auctions is mentioned on the mailer panel of the outside piece.  If I were the seller of one of the auctions shown in the interior pieces, I’d feel second rate.  I also regularly receive pieces that just have a calendar showing highlighted dates and a couple headlines.  Rather than treat one seller with unequal attention, all sellers get the impersonal treatment.

Typically, the auctioneer is combining an entire month’s worth of mailings at one shot.  In most cases, it would seem to me that somebody’s auction is getting advertised later than optimal timing.

The Mime
These pieces don’t say anything; they just indicate that there’s something not being said.  I’ve seen auction mailers with nothing but the recipient’s address and a stamp on them—sometimes also a stamped return address and logo on it.  Blank on the other side, too.  Why?  Because the auctioneer only paid for one-sided printing.  Usually, they are mailing a poster they had printed to hang in stores around town.  They are banking on the fact that curiosity will typically trump attention span and the hope that they won’t be seen as cheap.

I understand the intrigue strategy, but there are better and more professional ways to generate curiosity.  You’re paying to mail both sides of the brochure.  Why not use both?

The Narcissist
One auctioneer told me he that didn’t like me putting pictures on the outside of a brochure and that he wanted just his name and enlarged logo on the outside of the piece.  “When people see my name, they will want to open it.”  Even as a direct mail junkie, I don’t open all of my mail, even pieces from known entities.  From what I’ve heard, I’m not alone in that reality.  So, I wouldn’t trust the name recognition approach, especially when mailing to a new geographic or asset market.

The Acrobat
Usually this dude comes in postcard format.  He expects you to flip the piece over to see the most appealing images and information.  Online print shops only exasperate the problem by calling the side of the postcard opposite the address the “front.”  They assume guests will come to your back door first, I guess.  They overlook that the vast majority of Americans open their mail address side up—because that’s how mail deliverers put it in mailboxes.

Don’t make the people on your mailing list guess what’s for sale and why it’s important they know about it.  Capture their attention and inform them right from the first impression—the mailer panel.
[tip]

In advertising, you should judge a book by its cover, because that’s what its audience does.

Spiritually and relationally, though, it’s not a safe practice.  God says that he’s the only one who sees the inside through the outside.  Sadly, though, the church has built millennia of precedence of creating a sliding scale of holiness, based on mostly-arbitrary exterior criteria.  I struggle with this, too, especially when I feel insecure about my spiritual state.

Recently, a conversation with a mentor of mine challenged my resistance to a former convict participating in certain church environments.  We talked about how scandalous God’s grace and mercy are, and he dropped this on me:  “I don’t want to have a finer filter than God does.”  In other words, if God forgave someone and allowed them to approach him, why shouldn’t we?

Then he hit me with the knockout punch: “All of us have some pretty dark places in our hearts—all of us.”  It’s easy to see the darkness in others instead of our own waywardness.  It’s a challenge, though, to extend to someone else the benefit of a doubt that we give ourselves.

[footer]Stock image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com.[/footer]

2 comments

  • Cathy Thomas

    Ryan,Thanks for sharing your expertise as well as being transparent about your inward thoughts. I am reminded of this verse.
    “He will not always accuse us,
    and He will not be angry forever.
    He has not punished us as our sins should be punished;
    He has not repaid us for the evil we have done.
    As high is the sky is above the earth,
    so great is His love for those who respect Him.
    He has taken our sins away from us as far as the east is from the west.
    The Lord has mercy on those who respect Him, as a father has mercy on his children. He knows how we were made; He remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:9-14…Awesome!

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