Why Ugly Beats Beautiful in Direct Mail

Art and CopyFor those of you who have tested hundreds of direct mail packages across multiple industries. Have you ever noticed how often ugly packages outpull highly refined and attractive direct mail?

One would expect this in fundraising where donors do not want their donations to pay for extravagant collateral. But this holds true for many other industries as well. Banks, insurance companies, pre need funeral planning, newspaper subscriptions... the list goes on.

One of the most successful direct mail formats in history is the official and inexpensive looking Snap Pac.

The sensitive graphic artist may begin to think of direct marketers as their enemies.

Art directors should remember, however, that successful design is not always aesthetically attractive. 

What is good design or excellent direct mail package engineering? It's design that leverages the copy to sell. The expert artist knows how to get attention and make the copy easy to read and skim. They know that their job is to support the copy to increase response, not win awards.

Marketers and creative people should remember that the most significant response predictors have little to do with graphics.

Here are the priorities.
First, target the message to the right audience that has the recognized need and wherewithal to pay for the product. The second is the offer. The third is the channel. The fourth is the creative execution.
The question is why are we so focused on graphics with diminishing attention attention to copy? Here are my opinions as to why this is happening.
  1. Response generating copywriting is hard and requires discipline throughout the organization. Companies often don't know why some people buy their products while others don't. Many don't have a clear understanding of their value proposition. Graphics, on the other hand is fun to create and visually appealing. Snap judgments about graphics make us feel like we've done the job.
  2. Most marketers do not test because they don't track sales directly to the creative work. They also don't test the significant things because they make testing decisions based on popular myths such as the "keep it brief" illusion.
  3. In this Internet age, the demand for content has far outstrips the availability of expert copywriters. So the volume goes up and the quality goes down.

In spite of all of this, great direct response copywriters and art directors work every day to create winning creative work. But they may find a less knowledgeable market place as more and more companies scramble to find trained direct marketers to run their programs. 

Posted on May 23, 2014 and filed under Direct Mail, Direct Response Creative.