Denny’s Daily Zinger: 1 Postcard. 7 Basic Rules Broken.

A postcard that breaks the rules.

As founders and proprietors of the WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and massive archive of junk mail, Peggy and I spent years tracking and analyzing winning packages.
Our only object: To show and describe what works—and why—and the basic rules for success.

I now believe the only thing to make creatives see the light is to rub their noses in obvious crap.

So here goes. See the postcard in the media player at right.

The Seven Rules This Postcard Breaks:

  1. “Avoid the ‘hard-to-grasp’ headline—the headline that requires thought and is not clear at first glance.” —John Caples.
  2. “The headline selects the reader.” —Axel Andersson
  3. Vapid, cliché-ridden copy e.g.:
    From content that explores preservation
    through different lenses to live-streaming
    events PastForward pushes the frontiers

    of preservation.
  4. “Use serif type in body copy, not sans serif type; it’s more readable and will bring a better response.” —Craig Huey
  5. Never set your copy in reverse (white type on a black background) and never set it over a gray or colored tint. The old school of art directors believed that these devices forced people to read the copy; we now know that they make reading physically impossible. —David Ogilvy
  6. The word “you” is nowhere to be found.
  7. “Type smaller than 9-point is difficult for most people to read.” —David Ogilvy

(Note: The order information is white copy in 8-point sans serif type reversed out of a gray background.)

Denny Hatch’s new book is “Write Everything Right!” Basia Christ writes, “I read the book in two days … I couldn’t put it down! It is fun reading filled with resources, anecdotes, and although I have an MBA in Marketing, I learned much more from your book than many of my classes.” Click here to download (opens as a PDF) and read the first three chapters FREE. The title is also available on Kindle. Reach Denny at

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • Scott Schuh

    Surely you must of had an outside guest writer for this article as you refer to your “massive archive of junk mail” in your opening sentence. I know it wasn’t your intent to demean our industry, but in my opinion, you sort of had a mind-fart to even refer to advertising mail in this particular context. Sure there is “junk” that is produced and mailed, but you seemed to categorize it all in that manner which makes you sound like a writer for the newspaper or other media. I enjoy your perspective on many articles but watch your “tongue”…you should know better! Scott Schuh – LSC Marketing – Little Rock, AR

  • Denny Hatch

    Hey Scott Schuh,

    Thanks for taking the time to write with that great comment.

    If I had your e-mail address I would answer you personally. That said. . . .

    The great copywriter Bill Jayme loved the term “junk mail” and used it frequently at a time when “prissy purists” (Jayme’s phrase) in the direct marketing industry would throw hissy fits when anyone used the “J” word.

    “Everybody loves junk,” Jayme countered.

    “After all, Wall Street loves junk bonds. Automobile collectors love junkyards where they pick up parts. Antique collectors love junk shops. Who among us doesn’t love to take a bunch of junk fiction along on vacation? And what’s a Chinese fisherman without his j–k? Of course, Heikki [Ratalahti] and I create upscale junk mail. We spell it junque.”

    Thanks again.


    Denny Hatch

  • Jonathan Blaine

    Denny is spot-on with this article AND his comment to Scott. There’s direct marketing. Then there’s junk mail and advertisers with an address label maker who mistakenly believe they are direct marketers but only give direct mail a bad name. This nonprofit’s poor attempt at fundraising is just that. I hope they didn’t pay much for this job because their ROI is likely going to be very disappointing compared to what it could have been.

    One of my cardinal rules: if I count more “us” or “we” than “you” and “your,” I throw it out and start fresh. I have, from time to time, used reverse knockout for a headline, “sale” seal, or something minor, but this designer (if you could call him/her) went overboard… and, perhaps, should be keelhauled for it.

    It’s sad that sans serif use lives on in far too many marketers realities. This is simply a flyer masquerading as direct marketing. Personalized communication should be just that, and serif is the only way to go to give that impression, even on an otherwise impersonal format as a postcard. And the prospect’s address in ALL CAPS is straight out of 1980. At least it wasn’t a glued label.

  • Meg Hodges

    This postcard has some good elements… of a poster. Not a direct mail piece. I do agree with most of what has been said about this piece.

    That said, a good creative knows when to break the “rules” as a means of providing effective communication. They also know their audience. Something with this general feel might work for, say, a SCAD student symposium.

    While I admire Ogilvy’s many contributions to the field of modern advertising, there is a lot of excellent work out there made after Ogilvy traded Manhattan for the South of France. I’m greatful for role models like Bill Bernbach and others that didn’t follow his rules. The legendary Volkswagen campaign best known for ads like “Lemon” and “Think small” just wouldn’t have been the same set in prestige elite.