Judging the Echo Awards (1,302 words)
by Lois K. Geller
Just imagine. You open up your mailbox and find a silver sack envelope—the kind that newspapers sometimes come in. You open it up and there's a newspaper—at least it feels like a newspaper—but wait, it's entirely blank except for the name on the masthead. An attached response card reads, "You fill this in and we'll fill you in." It's a really unique approach to selling a newspaper subscription, because you're holding it in your hand and you really want to read it.
Having spent two days judging The 2000 Direct Marketing Association's International ECHO Award final submissions, I am completely excited about the programs I've seen and all of the possibilities for new breakthrough creative strategies we can do for our own direct marketing clients.
"The ECHOS," as they are called, are awarded by The Direct Marketing Association (The DMA). ECHO entries are judged on three components: "brilliant strategy, breakthrough creative and outstanding results." The ECHOS are an international competition, and this year The DMA received 877 entries. I participated in the judging of the 168 finalists. It's always fun to do it, because it gets my creative juices flowing.
When you go into the judging room at The DMA, all the ECHO award entries are placed on tables by category; the judges can sit down at a table and review Business-to-Business Direct Mail, Business-to-Consumer Direct Mail, Interactive and Catalog Programs, among other categories. Each entry includes statements which review the specific marketplace challenge, the strategy, the tactics, an overview of the creative strategy, the cost and size of the program and the actual results. I learn so much every year that I am grateful that Terri Edwards, manager of The International ECHO Awards Competition, asks me to judge.
This year's entries were so exciting that I decided to devote this month's column to some of the strategies and tactics that I think really stood out from the rest of the work I saw. You can view the direct response campaign winners at The DMA Convention in New Orleans, or check out the ECHO Web site, www.dma-ECHO.org.
Here are some of the ideas that I took away from this year's judging:
* There was a Saab lease retention program where the type, leading and kerning were just so perfect that the piece looked absolutely stunning. We often forget how the selection of type is so important; but seeing this perfect usage of typography, I remembered that type has to be an integral part of the design package, not an afterthought.
Not only was the Saab package beautiful, it also included a survey that had a really innovative twist; for every completed survey that it received, Saab would make a donation to Meals on Wheels.
* Branding elements and the tone of a package should all be consistent. One submission was an invitation to a lobster fest, and the entire execution was fun and colorful—it even had a disclaimer cleverly titled "Legal Claws."
Caribou Coffee did a great job selecting colors, paper and images that all reflected the Caribou brand. It created a feeling of the cold North, using natural, rugged, woodsy images. Even the logo invokes these images—it's an
* The most compelling direct mail is always targeted correctly and comes into your home looking like it came from a real person. One such package I saw was from a pharmaceutical company mentioning a drug to help women who are undergoing breast cancer treatment. The package included articles that appear to have been ripped out of newspapers. There were even "hand-written" notes in the margins. It used a spokesperson who was a survivor and a nurse, who wrote in a very down-to-earth and human way to the target audience. It was an extremely powerful and effective presentation.
* Along the same lines, I saw a car manufacturer mailing in a plain white envelope (it looked like a fund-raiser had sent it!), and the sender's name was "handwritten" above the typed return address. In addition, the business reply envelope had an actual Post-it note tacked on to it. It looked like a real human being had touched it.
* A package for a German health insurance company asked the reader to trace his or her foot onto a piece of paper and mail it to the company to "take the first step" in getting health insurance. Then the company follows up by sending the prospect a pair of sneakers! Now that's an involvement device!
* A package from World Vision to the sponsors of needy children was bright, colorful and upbeat—quite a departure from the typical fund-raising solicitation of this kind. It asked the sponsor to consider mailing the enclosed birthday card to the child it sponsors. It then asked the sponsor to make a small donation to send a gift (along with the card). The response rate was overwhelming, and it was generating incremental revenues.
* Design 64, a magazine developed by "Starving Artists" in Virginia, mailed a package that really made me laugh.
These folks sent prospects a real box of macaroni in a jiffy bag and told the prospects a great story about how artists really do live on macaroni. The response rate was great. Another mailing from these "Starving Artists" went out to advertisers, and invited them to a "mystery event" where they had to bring a little card that was enclosed in the letter. The card said, "Fido." In addition to bringing the card to the event, the letter indicated that you must burn the letter immediately after reading it. These packages were so innovative I really wanted to go to the event and see the magazine!
* A British company promoting voice answering services used a voice chip that talks to you as you open the solicitation package. The voice was clear and easy to understand as it described the product and was really on target for the audience. The only problem? It wouldn't be quiet as I went through the rest of the entries!
* Can you imagine a tourism package that doesn't show a single picture of the destination? Instead, this group used "scratch and sniff" frames, saying, "Do you remember your last vacation?" It was followed by the "scratch and sniff" smell of the ocean. It also featured the smell of the beach and various other vacation smells.
Again, as with the U.K. company that used the audio chip, given the nature of the product being sold, using "scratch and sniff" cards were effective in getting the reader involved.
* The mailing that promoted the ECHO Awards is another example of top-of-the line direct marketing.
The theme was a splattered tomato: as in, if you dare to enter this competition you should know that the judging is fierce and the standards are high, and the judges might throw tomatoes at you—or at each other! The mailing was fun, irreverent and a breakthrough—just like the ECHO Awards themselves.
So, what was my overall takeaway? That I need to dig deeper and do even more breakthrough work this year, too. We often have to inspire our clients to let us do work that is truly unique, while still on-target. Then and only then will we be excited about the work, more gratified by the response rate and hopefully, ready to enter our great work in next year's ECHO Awards. u
LOIS K. GELLER is president of Mason & Geller Direct Marketing, a full-service direct marketing agency. She is the author of "RESPONSE! The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing, and Direct Marketing Tech-niques." She is a frequent speaker at industry events and goes on site to teach Direct Marketing Boot Camp. She can be reached at (212) 697-4477 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.