Murray Raphel

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

I used to troll for clients by running a little ad in the back of Target Marketing magazine that offered a free critique of readers' direct mail packages. In fact, I still run the thing, even though anyone that responds is probably not a client I want.

Direct mail professionals don't need my critique. They know to test and let the marketplace critique their efforts in a very real way.

But I'm fascinated to see what folks out there are doing.

When someone asks for a critique, I never say whether the piece is good or bad, or whether I like it or not. Long ago, I realized I can't judge good direct mail. It judges me.

If the mailing works—brings in orders, inquiries or donations at an acceptable cost per order—it's good direct mail. As a direct marketing journalist, my job is to find those efforts that are working and try to figure out why.

What I do in the free critique is point out where the mailing breaks accepted rules.

The Sam's Club free-standing insert (FSI) I received in my Inquirer last Thursday broke a ton of rules.

It's OK to break rules, but only if you know the rules you are breaking—and why.

The Sam's Club people obviously didn't.

I used to know Sheldon Hearst, whose business was putting racks of 5½˝ x 8˝ take-one brochures in supermarkets. A marketer had a fraction of a second to catch the shopper's eye with a headline. The most powerful, most successful headline that was used for years: WET BED?

At the end of this story you’ll find three institutional ads—from United Technologies, General Electric and Archer Daniels Midland. All are attempts by Madison Avenue to create positive impressions in potential investors’ minds. Management hopes that if the image of these giant conglomerates can be burnished—as opposed to highlighting the famous brands that they own—the increased awareness will inspire investors to buy stock in the mother ship and the price of shares will go up. In the case of United Technologies, the campaign is budgeted at $20 million a year. In their endlessly self-congratulatory and repetitive book, “WHAT STICKS: Why Most Advertising Fails and How to Guarantee Yours

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