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.”
Design by Ted Kikoler
One of the greatest direct mail designers is Canadian Ted Kikoler, who has more controls than a lamb has fleece. Here are some of the concepts he shared with Don Jackson and me for our book, “2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success.”
Jolt the reader. Sameness puts people to sleep, whereas a jolt keeps them alert. Jolt them by having as many components as economically feasible in your envelope. It’s better to break messages into two or three smaller pieces of paper rather than saving money by crowding it all on one. Give each piece a separate theme such as: guarantee, free bonus, early bird bonus, testimonials, etc.
It’s important that every component in your envelope looks different. There should be different sizes, shapes, colors, typefaces, folds, etc. Yes, it can look like a three-ring circus, but it jolts the reader and increases your response.
Make the reader’s eyes go where you want them to go. His mind will follow. Here are some things that work:
• The eye normally goes from: dark areas to light areas; large objects to small; and bright areas to drab areas.
• The eye zeros in on things that are out of place (color, size, shape and position).
• Have photos and illustrations face the copy or be in the direction you want the reader to go. Every photo has direction.
• Captions and call-outs get high readership.
• If everything looks alike, the reader can make the mistake that he’s already seen one of your messages.
• Make each side of a two-sided piece look different.
Never forget Lew Smith’s succinct three-word dictum: “Neatness rejects involvement.”
Seattle guru Bob Hacker said it in two words: “Ugly works.”
Denny Hatch is a freelance direct marketing consultant and copywriter. Visit him at www.dennyhatch.com, or contact him via e-mail at email@example.com.