As consumers, we are often bombarded by different types of advertisements each day. Whether it?s by television, newspaper, or billboards, advertising has reached us one way or another. Yet, a majority of the ads that we encounter are often meaningless and uninteresting, because of the fact that these ads are meant to reach a certain target audience.
This perception seems to change, however, when we look inside our mailboxes, pick-up our telephone, and even check our e-mail. We often ponder how marketers know that we have a pet snake, own a certain kind of computer, or even wear 70?s clothing. That is because everytime we purchase products such as: electronics, computer software, and other products, direct-mail advertising is in the air. Everytime we send those warranties and registration forms back to the manufacturer; as consumers we are often unaware that we are sending information about ourselves, that will be used as; statistical, personal, and informative data for future marketing purposes. Thus, marketers and advertisers know what kinds of products to target us with.
Although direct-mail, or as we call it ?junk-mail?, somehow finds its way to our homes and businesses. Little that we know that as consumers, we are often pressed for time. Thus, direct-mail advertising is a convenient way for us to shop without having to leave the house.
In order to understand direct-mail advertising, I will be discussing this unique medium in a broad spectrum of subjects. Among them are: what direct-mail advertising is, the historical development of the medium, different methods and types of mail, the future of direct-mail advertising, and the internet?s use of the medium for visual communication.
Direct-mail advertising is a form of medium used by direct marketers, it is the most personal and selective of all media. Also, this highly specialized mail can be purchased ( among the thousands available are lists of various level students, business professionals, college professors, pregnant women, and even vintage car owners), but they can be expensive. Printing and postage fees make the cost of direct-mail per person reached quite high compared with other forms of media. However, because direct mail goes only to the people the advertiser wishes to contact, there is no wasted coverage. Reaching the prospect does not, however, ensure that the message its received. Direct mail is pure advertising. ?Therefore, a direct-mail ad must attract its own readers. This is critical when you consider that the average American home receives more than 10 direct mail pieces a week and that the recipient of such ads decide in 4 seconds whether to discard or open it? (Etzel, Stanton, and Walker 492).
During the 1950?s and early 1960?s, computers emerged to be common business tools. ?Marketers were able to collect, store, and manipulate larger amounts of data to aid marketing decision makers. Out of this capability developed the marketing information system (MkIS)- an ongoing, organized procedure to generate, analyze, disseminate, store, and retrieve information for use in making marketing decisions? (Etzel, Stanton, and Walker 77).
Another useful tool that developed for marketers is the decision support system (DSS). This particular system is a computerized procedure that permits the marketing manager to interact with data and use various methods of analysis to incorporate, examine, and characterize information. This computer-based procedure adds acceleration and versatility to the MkIS.
These useful computer-based systems are then organized, stored, and updated in another computer in what is known as a database. This is perhaps the nucleus for all direct-marketers, because it has allowed them to narrow their specific target market by identifying the market?s special interests, buying behavior, and purchasing power, to name a few.
With the developments of these three interrelated computer-strategically systems, direct-mail then emerged to be one of the many tools that direct-marketers conveniently use to target their markets. However, with the introduction of desktop publishing in the 1980?s, direct-mail advertising accelerated as an important medium for advertisers, as well as people running for office. ?Richard Parkert, a direct-mail consultant to Democrats (and an activists from the 1960?s), looks upon the medium as today?s underground press? (Nelson 296).
Growth of Direct-Mail
Direct mail is successful because it matches today?s lifestyles; families have less time, so shopping by mail is more convenient. It is the most effective way to generate immediate results, since it is addressed directly to the prospect. Today?s leading mail-order products include insurance and financial services, department store merchandise, and many other services.
Another reason for the global success of direct-mail advertising, is the fact that this type of medium can increase the effectiveness of ads in other media. For instance, advertisers do not send un-solicited mail. They will tend to use other direct-response media to reach their target market, and then use direct-mail to respond to inquires. Thus, making direct-mail advertising to be the most effective method for closing a sale or generating attention of products, services, or ideas.
Direct-mail advertising is also the fastest-growing medium today. Since many large companies have down-sized during the past, many people are working more and more hours. Furthermore, people also have busy schedules and involved in many activities such as: continuing education, personal fitness, and other professional or civic activities. Thus, having less time to go out and shop for themselves. Direct-mail advertising then came into the picture by providing consumers with convenience by having the product, service, or idea come to them.
Throughout the history of advertising, newspapers and television have been the most widely used medium, based on total advertising dollars spent. However, their share has declined, as the amount of dollars spent for direct-mail advertising has increased. ?The Direct Marketing Association estimates that national advertisers spent more than $27 billion on direct mail in 1994, that?s nearly 20 percent of all the ad dollars spent in the United States? (Arens 440). Thus, making direct-mail advertising the third ranked advertising medium used today, surpassed only by television and newspapers.
The Development of Direct Mail in the Internet
The future of direct-mail advertising has developed side by side with the technology development of the World Wide Web. Through the Internet, conventional ways of direct-mail advertising is transformed in many ways through the advances of the developments of computer technology.
Direct-mail advertising now use the World Wide Web extensively to target their specified markets. One meaningful contribution of the Internet to direct-mail advertising is the process of selective binding. This innovative technique enables the advertiser to build unique versions of each type of direct-mail ad for reach their intended target audience more efficiently through the Internet.
Another innovative use of direct-mail advertising through the Internet is again, the database. This form of technology is widely used by direct marketers, who maintain lists of their specific consumers and web-surfers. Through the use of the database, marketers can now maintain an informative list of their consumers. However, marketers are often reluctant to maintain their databases in the Internet, because they claim that it is too complicated and time consuming.
Types of Direct-Mail Lists
The nucleus of any direct-mail program is the mailing list. Marketers and advertisers use 3 unique lists that will assist them to promote their products, services, or ideas.
1) House Lists- This is the marketers or company?s relational database of current, recent, and long-passed customers as well as future prospects for direct-mail programs. This list is the primary source used by the company.
2) Mail-in Response Lists- This is the people who respond direct-mail pieces from other companies, especially those with complementary products or services. ?This type of list are the house lists of other direct-mail advertisers, and they can be rented with a wide variety of demographic breakdowns? (Arens 441).
3) Compiled Lists- This particular list can be described as ?available lists?. Also, these readily available lists generate the lowest response rate. Therefore, marketers use them along with house lists, combining them with mail-in responses, and then eliminating the duplicate names.
Types of Direct-Mail Advertising
Direct methods of advertising and selling grew astronomically in the last decade. Direct-mailadvertising comes in various formats from handwritten postcards to dimensional mailings. The message can be one sentence or dozens of pages. And within each of the following formats, the creative and marketing options are infinite.
1) Sales letters- These are the most common direct-mail format, are often mailed with brochures, price lists, or reply cards and even envelopes.
2) Postcards- are used to announce sales, offer discounts, or generate customer traffic.
3) Business reply mail- enables the recipient to respond without paying postage. On receiving a response, the advertiser pays postage plus a handling fee of a few cents. Postage-free incentives usually increase response rates.
4) Folders and brochures- are usually printed in multiple colors on good paper stock that reproduces photos or other illustrations well.
5) Broadsides- are larger than folders and are sometimes used as window displays or wall posters in stores. They also fold to fit in a mailbag.
6) Self-mailers- are any form of direct mail that can travel without an envelop. Usually folded and secured by a staple or seal, they have special blank spaces for the prospect?s name and address.
7) Statement stuffers- are direct-mail advertisements that are enclose in monthly customer statements from department stores, banks, or oil companies.
8) House organs- are publications developed by associations or business organizations such as; stock holder reports, newsletters, and consumer magazines.
9) Catalogs- are reference books that list, describe, and often picture the products sold by a manufacturer, wholesaler, jobber, or retailer. Some mail-order companies prosper with specialized products like outdoor clothing and gear, electronic gadgets, or even gourmet foods.
The Use of Visual Communication
The use of visual communication for direct-mail pieces are made to be unique for each of the individual target markets. Therefore, the writers, artists, publishers, marketers, and advertisers need to be intelligently selective about the visual communication that is involved on the mail. For instance, to name two different audiences, it may require to use distinct art and design strategies. Also, the designer must determine the direct-mail piece?s accomplishment. For example, if the target is a non-profit organization, should they consider using full color or glossy stock?
As a designer of a direct-mail piece, they must first attract the reader, get the piece picked up, opened, and read. Also, in direct-mail, the advertising must be present. To be successful, each direct-mail piece must contain the following principals, which are interrelated with one another:
1) Letterhead- a clever letterhead is what counts on direct-mail pieces, it cannot be too small not too large, the font must also relate with the visual communication that is presented on the direct-mail piece.
2) Intriguing Visuals- Perhaps this is the single most attractive feature of a direct-mail piece. This may include: photos, cartoons, high adventure, fantasy, classic to modern pictures, and even sexual messages to name a few.
3) Benefits- Since direct-mail is pure advertising, the piece must present the reader of the benefits of the product or service, this may include: safety, image, discounts or incentives, sweepstakes, and convenience to name a few.
4) Company logo- The company?s name, logo, or signature must be present in the direct-mail piece. In order to have success, the company must be recognized by the reader. This may be an iconic or arbitrary form of visual information.
5) How To…- How to get the product, where to buy it, how much does it cost. Basically, all the necessary information that the reader needs. This can include: a 800 number, the name of store or mall, a website address, or even a map of the participating retailer.
Internet?s Use of Visual Communication
The internet?s use of visual communication is a different story. Direct-mail experts do not seem to have confidence on the visual communication involved their Websites. Since direct-mail online is still in it?s developing stages, many of us ?web surfers? simply ignore, block, or trash our junk e-mail that is sent to us. Also, to get into the e-mailing list, a consumer must fill out an information form, which is often ignored. As a matter of fact, many advertisers do not maintain their databases. Thus, possible consumers are not sent vital information about their products, sales, or current trends.
However, I visited a few Websites that involves direct-mail companies. These companies used different visual communication devices to attract their possible target audience. Among these sites are:
J. Crew, Victoria?s Secret, and The Gap, which are all involved in direct-mail advertising, as well as in the clothing and apparel market.
1) J. Crew- This particular sight used the Christmas season for it?s visual imagery. Also, the use of models with different races, social classes, and social backgrounds, reminded me of a lighter side of Bennetton advertising. Unfortunately, this particular site did not have many enticing visual communicative imagery. It did contain snow and pine trees in the background as well as on the clothing of the models. The website is very easy to use, and the use of normal everyday models is very appealing, which targets just about every possible consumer market. However, the site lacked important visual communication.
2) Victoria?s Secret- This site mainly uses beautiful models as the visual imagery. I also noticed the possible use of subliminal advertising in Victoria?s Secret?s website, catalogs, and direct-mail pieces. Victoria?s Secret places the company logo on the breasts of their models, thus enticing the viewers mind on the sexual part of the female body ( or is it just the man in me?). Also, this was the only site out of the three, that uses a two table format, which made the site easier to use. The visual communication involved in the website appeared in just about every picture. It involved the models with visual communicative imagery such as: a spiral staircase, fountains, angel wings, low and distorted background lighting, and office and household furniture?s. The spiral staircase may represent a step up on your love-life, the fountain as purity and youth, while the angel wings representing strength and comfort, and the lighting just added a more classic and seductive view of the models.
3) The Gap- This Webpage used the seasonal clothing apparel as it?s storefront. However, it did not involve any visual communication in it?s storefront. However, it is simple to use and I was able to find the proper information that I requested such as: products, store location, and customer service. There was a interesting feature in the Gap?s website, they involved the visitor with the popular television commercials by adding the download feature of the chosen commercial, as well as numerous desktop pictures. The visual communication used for the commercials were focused mainly on the musicians and the clothing they wear. That is the main reason that the company used a plain white room, with no eye catching visuals. Therefore, the audience?s eyes will not wander around and will recognize the spokesperson and the apparel they wear. A simple yet ingenious advertising idea if you ask me.
Hal Pawluck?s 4 R?s
All three Websites use Pawluck?s four R?s quite well. All three Websites the were quick to load and responsive to my needs. They were simple, yet effective. The Websites were also relevant, it consisted with every information that a consumer needs, such as: customer service, new products, and sweepstakes. The repeatability of the webpages were well maintained. All three focused on the up coming Christmas Season, and also the future products that the store will be acquiring for the next fashion season. It also had a sweepstakes, extra incentives, and even a online discount card, which may have an positive effect for customer return. All three sites were rewarding, although they all varied from elegant to simple use of visual imagery, all three were good overall sites to visit.
Future of Direct-Mail on the Internet
Direct-mail online or ?online-retailing?, in which consumers use their computers to shop for products and make purchases, primarily through online services (such as America Online and Prodigy) and the World Wide Web. Direct-mail online is in its infancy, generating a meager total of $125 million in sales during 1995. Thus far, most vendors have not come up with the proper marketing mix for direct-mail online. For instance, assortments are very limited, discounts are rare, and the graphic ?showrooms? are often are not particularly attractive or entertaining. Also, the expense of establishing an appealing, functional Web site is considerable, ranging from $300,000 to $3 million or more.
?However, as vendors gain online experience, it is expected that the effectiveness of the Web sites should improve as the costs decline. Furthermore, it is estimated that as many as 30 million potential buyers will be online within the next several years, most of them computer proficient and many of them with substantial buying power. For these reasons, the prospects for online retailing are bright, with predicted sales of around $5 billion by the beginning of the new century? (Etzel, Stanton, and Walker 394).
Many of the sites that I have visited are now involved in many innovative ideas to promote their products. Among them is the personal information file, where consumers can fill out a form with an e-mail address, in order to receive a weekly information about sales, products, incentives, contests, and seasonal fashions. As consumer behavior changes, technology will adapt to it?s needs. Sooner or later, I predict that databases will be so advanced, that on-line marketers will be capable of identifying the needs and behaviors of the consumer market. Perhaps consumers will not need to fill out the time consuming personal information form, thus getting e-mails from the companies that we visit or interested in.
As a matter of fact, some of the largest commercial sites on the World Wide Web have agreed to feed information about their customer?s reading, shopping and entertainment habits into a new and improved database system that is now tracking the moves of more than 30 million Internet users, recording where they go, and what they read, often without the user?s knowledge. This agreement by participating Web sites is primarily used for direct-advertising, it promises to deliver precise, direct, and personalized ads, specifically for that target user. Eventhough this is said to be an invasion of privacy, many of the powerful commercial sites are using, selling, and distributing these consumer behaviors and informations to numerous retailers, advertisers, and marketers for direct-advertising use. Many advertising and marketing experts believe that direct-mail online is only in it?s early developmental stages. As an evolving mass medium, online direct-mail advertising is where radio was in 1920, where television was in 1950, and where cable was during 1970. All of these, you may have observed, are now universal.
Etzel, Michael, J., Stanton, William, J., and Walker, Bruce, J.
Marketing: 11th edition. NewYork: McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., 1997.
Arens, William, F.
Contemporary Advertising: 6th edition. Chicago: Irwin Inc.,1996
Nelson, Roy, P.
The Design of Advertising: 7th edition. Wisconsin: WCB Brown & Benchmark Publishers, 1994.