In May, my wife, Peggy, and I went to Normandy for a three-day total immersion into D-Day and World War II. The biggest town in the area is Caen (pronounced caw, with the “n” silent), and we stayed at the Best Western Moderne, a fine little hotel centrally situated and a bargain next to what we paid in Paris.
Caen was blown to bits during the Allied invasion, much of it reduced to rubble. In the hotel window were a couple of photographs of the old Moderne before the war. I remembered a story about World War II told to me many years ago about German Army officers leaving their hotel rooms as the invading Allied forces moved into town. The Germans did not go quietly. Instead, they booby-trapped the rooms they were vacating with massive explosives.
When the new occupant, an American officer, entered the room, all looked perfectly fine and cozy, but for one small detail: the framed picture over the bed was slightly tilted. Whenever you see a slightly tilted picture on the wall, your immediate instinct is to straighten it, right? Otherwise, it continually bugs you. It’s ugly. So when the officer reached over to straighten the picture—BLAM! The bomb went off; the officer was killed instantly, and the room was in shambles. The ruse worked for a long time, because no neatness-conscious American officers lived to tell others about it.
Direct Mail Design
My first boss and mentor in the direct marketing business was Lew Smith, creative VP at Grolier Enterprises, who went on to become the right-hand man of the legendary Lester Wunderman. One of my first questions to Smith when I showed up for work was, “Why does direct mail look so junky?”
“Neatness rejects involvement,” he said. “If a thing is too neat and tidy, a reader will look at it and say, ‘Isn’t that nice?’ and move on. That’s why graduates of art schools make lousy direct mail designers.”