Can Direct Mail Be Funny? If So, Should It Be!?
A bowling ball smashing a printer — that's the first thing I thought of a couple of months ago when Mazarine Treyz, proprietor of Wild Woman Fundraising, asked me if direct mail could be funny. The trouble is, I couldn't think of any other examples besides a postcard for AMF Bowling Centers.
In "2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success," the late Milt Pierce warned "Avoid humor at all costs," which seems to be standard industry advice. After scouring our Who's Mailing What! files (the world's largest collection of direct mail and email), I was hard-pressed to find more than a few mailings that used humor in some way. But many of those that did use humor helped to illustrate how it can be done successfully.
First, let's acknowledge that humor is incredibly subjective. People laugh at different things based on their age, nationality and many other factors. As with everything else in direct mail, knowing your intended audience is absolutely essential. You do not want your humorous images and copy to fall on deaf ears, or even worse, offend your prospects.
For example, the Al Franken for Senate 2014 campaign, undoubtedly targeting die-hard progressive Democrats, led with this counterintuitive teaser on the front of its recent #10 outer: "Republicans agree: Al Franken is #1." The letter inside, from the comedian-turned-Senator, explains "I'm one of their top targets in the upcoming elections."
Senator Franken goes on to provide a humorous twist to his serious message, "I need people like you to stand with me by supporting my 2014 U.S. Senate re-election campaign. And just to be clear, by 'stand with,' and 'supporting,' I mean 'give money to.'"
You'll want your humor to be immediate, as well as stand out against the rest of the mail it's competing with for the attention of the customer. Photographs and graphics are especially good at this task. At the same time, however, they shouldn't be so interruptive and distracting that they work against your brand's identity by being disrespectful, demeaning or frivolous.
Related story: DM Lessons from the 2013 Election