Brand Advertising and Direct Marketing – aka Beauty and the Beast.

by Bill Rogers


Many years before joining Direct Choice, I strolled into a creative presentation with weary from an early flight but emboldened by the solid direct mail concepts my team had prepared. This was before Arnold Worldwide had crafted the beloved Flo character. At the time, was the new kid on the block, smothering the airways with a bold offer: get the best quote on auto insurance even if it’s not ours!  It was a novel approach, not to mention an offer that was built for direct mail. The presentation was going exceptionally well until I presented a mailing which removed the Progressive logo from the envelope in favor of what I called an “urgent, under-the-radar” approach. They didn’t get it.


The argument I heard against the “under the radar” approach was the same one I hear today. Quote the client, “Why would we mail un-branded envelopes when we’re spending millions of dollars building our brand through TV, outdoor and display?” My answer is that I was hired to elicit a response from cold prospects and this is a proven approach. Getting people excited about the brand is quite different from getting them to open an envelope.


Direct marketing is first and foremost about ROI — and there’s a science to it.

When your campaigns are judged by leads and conversions, your approach to the market is a mix of art and science with an emphasis on science for these reasons:


  • Campaign success in direct marketing is 40% offer, 40% audience or list, 20% creative execution
  • Creative success is tied to a formula: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action
  • Direct marketing writers are psychologists focusing on core motivators – fear, guilt, greed, status
  • Testing of offers, lists and creatives drives us to optimize our ROI


This science side of the business is what leads us back to the “under the radar” envelope. Why are there so many unbranded and urgent looking mailers begging us to Open Immediately! The fact is, they still stand out in the mail pile and people are afraid to throw them out just in case something inside is important. Do people feel gullible for opening them? Maybe some (we can’t measure that) but numbers don’t lie. That’s why “ugly works” is often heard inside the walls of agencies that know direct mail.


It’s important that clients understand that we are judicious in our use of unbranded, under-the-radar envelopes. It’s a tool we reserve for prospect mailings where the recipient has no relationship with the brand and little to no interest in what we’re selling. When mail quantities allow, it’s something we test in order to break through the clutter of promotional mail or else wind up in the waste bin.


Yes, brand advertising and direct marketing can and should live in harmony.

Direct marketers never want to be in a position of working against a brand’s positioning or reputation. A strong brand is something for us to leverage! It’s an integral part of our offer and informs our creative approach. That said, direct marketing creative must have leeway to do its job effectively. Sometimes, we’re going to have to break brand standards to get noticed and motivate action — it’s the nature of the beast.

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