Famous Last Words: Axel Andersson’s Amazing Archive
As most readers know, in the late 1970s I went to a Direct Mail Writer’s Guild luncheon where the featured speaker was Dorothy Kerr, circulation director of U.S. News & World Report. Kerr said: “To be successful in this business you have to see who’s mailing what … look for those mailings that keep coming again and again, which means they are successful, and then steal smart.”
I immediately began collecting and cataloging direct mail samples, and my little archive expanded from one file drawer to 15 filing cabinets.
In 1984 my wife, Peggy (now group president and publishing director of the Target Marketing Group), and I started the newsletter, Who’s Mailing What!, from our basement in Stamford, Conn. The premise was to analyze successful direct mail packages and make copies available to writers and designers who wanted to see them.
The newsletter was successful and became well-known in the direct mail community. It’s still being published, but under the title Inside Direct Mail.
Enter Axel Andersson
I don’t know how Axel Andersson found me, but he called me up one day from Florida and asked if he could visit my archive. Direct marketers were always welcome, and he flew into Stamford and spent several days with us.
Following World War II, Andersson, a Swede, went to work for the largest home study company in Europe, headquartered in Hamburg, Germany. The products were language, writing and art courses. In the course of his work, Andersson made many trips to the United States, studied with the late, great guru Ed Mayer, and became the world’s foremost authority on direct mail, which he unabashedly loved. Andersson eventually bought the business, changed the name to the Axel Andersson Academy and turned it into the largest such organization in Europe, if not the world. He sold it in the 1970s and moved to Florida.
Andersson—a dynamo with a mop of gray curly hair and a heavy European accent—was the greatest student of direct mail I have ever known. “Creating direct mail without studying other people’s successful direct mail,” Andersson wrote, “is like trying to do brain surgery without studying brains.”
Every few months, Peggy and I would ship several giant cartons of our duplicate mailings to Andersson, and he add would them to his private archive in Florida.
A few times a year, Andersson would come to Stamford (and later to Philly after we moved here) to spend time in our archive, and to spend hours working in his hotel room studying duplicate mailings. In Philly he always stayed at the low-cost Comfort Inn on Race Street in the middle of Chinatown. “Why should I stay at the Marriott or the Four Seasons?” he said. “Of course I can afford them, but all I will run into are people just like me. If you are in marketing, you have to mingle with the people you are marketing to.”
One of “Axel’s Axioms” was, “If you are in marketing, always take the streetcar or subway to work.”
While the Who’s Mailing What! Archive is cataloged by mailer, product and date, Andersson’s massive collection is sorted by technique: membership cards, offers, freemiums, headlines, continuity series, book clubs, etc.
This fascinating concept could be hugely useful to the vertical sectors of the direct mail community—especially those companies and agencies that are flying blind with young, inexperienced account execs and writers.
Andersson, now in his late 80s, called me in early March to say that his archive is available. He would like to see his life’s work—or portions of it—passed on to marketers that could benefit from it.
“How much room does it take up?” I asked.
I’d forgotten that he had bought the house next door for his archive and study.
Nothing like this exists in the world. I do not have room for it in my tiny 1817 Philly row house. The Target Marketing Group offices do not have room for such a vast treasure trove of direct marketing materials either.
Denny Hatch is a freelance direct marketing consultant and copywriter. Visit him at www.dennyhatch.com, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.