Thursday, June 3, 2010


There’s an old rule in Direct Mail; avoid “high-like/high-dislike” marketing. What does that mean? It means that when someone pulls a piece out of the mailbox, they should neither love it nor hate it. And, generally speaking, what one loves – another will hate anyway. So the adage became “shoot for the middle.” The middle is big. Perhaps (I’m making these stats up, but the principal is close) 15% of an audience will be discerning and really need to be impressed… another 15% won’t be pleased – no matter what… that leaves 70% of an audience that “may be persuaded” if you neither aim high nor low. Now the question becomes – is that where you want to be? Middle of the pack? Really?

It was an article on creative writing for marketing brands that got me thinking about ADG’s Direct Mail days. We created “Direct” that ended up in tens-of-millions of mailboxes, and nearly as many trash cans -- especially for financial services clients who flooded channels to try and get credit card customers to always be spending more. The goal: get a 1% - 3% response rate simply by playing the law of averages.

So back to the aforementioned article… the writer drew attention to the fact that most every corporate entity plugs itself the same way. The words in quotes are Google search terms, and the digits that follow the number of companies using the phrase. “Full-service solutions provider” (47,000,) “cost-effective end-to-end service provider” (95,000,) “value-added services” (600,000.) Quick! Somebody coin a new phrase so the masses can adopt that too.

After 20 years, ADG is still growing as an agency – but one lesson we learn over and over is that for companies to make a mark, they need to be original, distinguishable from the crowd, true to their own brand, and willing to swim against the tide at times. Aiming for the masses is a crap shoot; so when you do, it’s entirely plausible to end up with, well, crap. Doing the analysis to understand current customers and discover something new is business. And in this creative director’s opinion, “high-like” is the only place to be -- if you’re committed to putting the right message in the hands of the right audience. When corporate brands strive for lukewarm, they’re bound to be ice cold soon after.

1 comment:

Charles said...

I'm in complete agreement. Part of the trouble, however, is that a lot of managers seem to prefer the "safe" option of looking like the competition.

As an example, in a fairly recent direct-mail project I worked on, there were three options: two used separate visual and verbal metaphors for the product that not clearly differentiated it from the competition. Nobody could call them edgy, but they were certainly unorthodox, too.

The third was and is one of the blandest concepts I've designed. Visually and verbally, it relied on obvious metaphors used by nearly every Tom, Dick, and Harry.

Unbelievably, the boss liked one of the unorthodox concepts -- a lot. But he allowed himself to be persuaded by one of his lieutenants to go with the safe option. Better luck next time, I suppose.