3 Direct Mail Variants of the Traditional Envelope

The brown paper bag as envelope has worked so well for the charity Philadundance that it’s been mailing for over three years now.

Witness the mighty “brochurelope,” which a few nonprofits and museums are using in the mail right now. Even the Obama 2012 campaign employed it early in the year.

The campaign “brochurelope” folds open to display its message.

Vocus seizes attention with the invitational-style, personalized outer envelope.

The interior of the Vocus self-mailer operates well to gather leads, as the reply card is more prominent than in most efforts.

Editor’s note: This excerpt comes from “Design & Formats for Boosting Direct Mail Response” and was contributed by our friends at Direct Marketing IQ. To download the full direct mail design report, Click Here.
In a mailbox that’s a little less crowded than just a few years ago, there’s still a daunting task at hand: How to stand out to the prospective customer or donor.

Even with a full battery of exciting tools at your disposal—like 4-color, variable data printing (VDP) or extra windows to tease the offer inside, just to name a few—the good ol’ envelope is still just an envelope. That is, except when it isn’t—and I’m not talking about a self-mailer.

Yes, you can still keep all of the elements of a tried-and-true direct mail envelope package that you know and love—letter, inserts, reply form and reply envelope—exactly the same. The difference is what you can use to hold them. Variations that do the same job as the traditional envelope have enjoyed some success, thanks to adventurous non-profit mailers.

Take the brown paper bag. Although it first appeared in the Who’s Mailing What! Archive way back in 1988 (from Lycoming College), it really caught on in the first decade of the 21st century, with quite a few food banks and social service groups, like the New York City Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army. Usually measuring around 5˝ x 10˝, the bag first attracts attention precisely because of what it is: a flattened lunch bag with an address sticker on one side, tabs across the open end to seal in the typical inserts, and often, the letter printed on the opposite side.

What makes it so powerful as a format is that it can be easily tied in directly with the pitch of an organization. Philabundance’s Grand Control (mailed for more than three years), for example, tells the potential contributor that “there are 900,000 people here in the Delaware Valley who don’t have enough food to fill this lunch bag.” And, the bag doesn’t always have to be brown. Washington D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Clinic mailed an effort that helped illustrate its mission (providing medications to people living with HIV/AIDS). In this case, it was a white paper bag bearing an Rx symbol.

Paul Bobnak is the director of Who's Mailing What!, the most complete, searchable and fully online library of direct mail and email in the world. He has read and analyzed thousands of direct mail packages (offers, copy, designs, incentives and formats) and email in more than 200 industry categories, including retail, nonprofits, insurance, telecom, B-to-B, financial services and publishing. He writes for the e-newsletter Today @ Target Marketing and has been a judge in NonProfit PRO's Gold Awards for Fundraising Excellence since 2006.
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  • Cheryl Keedy

    You do know the USPS put the kibosh on the bag mailer as shown in your example. I guess because it has been so popular and successful with so many groups – it came under extra scrutiny the by the USPS Even with all the tabs etc it will no longer qualify to mail at letter rates. The alternative morphed version as suggested by the USPS – is a sleeve and hardly conveys the same impact. Sorry – I liked it too.

  • Vocus

    Thanks for the shout in your post Paul – it made us smile to see that you liked our direct mail. Our marketing team appreciates it!