Hooked on Backgammon
The Utter Folly of Mail
Shortly after my wife, Peggy, and I moved to Philadelphia in the early 1990s to take over the management of this magazine, the big New York direct marketing agencies conned a bunch of packaged goods manufacturers to go into the mail. Quaker Direct sent out packets of cents-off coupons. Air Miles sent elaborate mailings offering one and two free miles for various packaged goods purchases complete with an incredibly complex redemption system that doomed it from the start. In my ancient sample collection, I have an elegant mailing from Lever Brothers for Dove soap that included a letter, brochure and a piece of litmus paper enabling you to test your current soap. Included was a coupon offering 50 cents off your next two bars of Dove soap.
About 10 years ago, Kerry Smith of PROMO magazine and I did a confrontational presentation at DM Days in New York. Smith defended these mailings; I took the audience through the arithmetic of using direct mail to promote packaged goods and mocked the mailers for their extravagance, waste and utter stupidity. Many raging agency people and packaged goods marketers snarled questions at me and claimed to be building brand as well as getting consumers to try the products. The agencies made a ton of money, and probably gave each other Echo and Caples awards for creative excellence. Meanwhile the packaged goods guys lost their shirts. By the time the bean counters had tallied up the damage, the brand managers who were suckered into the deal had gone on to other brands.
Where it is economically crazy to market low-cost packaged goods by direct mail--with the current mail package costing an average of $500/M—it can be done on the Web. But where the brand managers in the early 1990s didn't know their direct marketing arithmetic, the brand managers at Nabisco don't know the basics of direct marketing--that the entire exercise is pointless unless you make an offer and make it easy to buy. You have to close the loop.