Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Direct Mail that almost worked

Direct mail is a lost art. As consumers, we’ve come to recognize time-wasting ad material even when it comes in a sealed envelope, and we automatically file it where it can do the least harm.

But then there’s this DM package that arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago from Bell Canada. It begged to be opened. When you looked at the transparent back of the envelope, you could see this 5x7" "Open for Business" sign, just like you might find at a quality stationery store.

You tear the envelope open and it’s exactly what you thought – a very cool “Open for Business” sign on heavy, glossy stock. High quality and tough enough to put on your office door or in the front window of your store.

The back of the card offers this pitch: “Visit www.bell.ca/open to log in with your enclosed Preferred Business I.D. now!”

That’s not exactly a strong benefit statement. But the “Open” card is so cool that you're ready to give Bell the benefit of the doubt. So you actually look at the color brochure that came with the sign. Although the headline is vague (“We’re Open for Your Business 24/7!”), the thematic link to the sign is so strong that I went ahead and opened the four-page brochure.

Alas, this is where it all breaks down. You get a two-page spread about – well, something. It has product demos that have something to do with a BlackBerry, it offers opinion polls from Canadian business people, a Solution Generator (“for a customized wireless recommendation”), and BizNews articles that offer “the expert opinion and newsworthy information you want to know.”

So, I guess it’s some sort of website. Does it have a name? A brand? Apparently not.

The marketing bumph calls it, variously, www.bell.ca/open (which strikes me as an address, not a name); “one valuable resource for everything you need” regarding wireless solutions; “one convenient and easily accessible place”; “access to instant information for all aspects of your business”; and, “the site.”

The d-m guys got the concept right. They created a must-open package that arrests the attention of business owners. But boy did the product copywriters let them down.

Still, everyone who got the package also received their very own “Preferred Business I.D.” password that provides “open access” to the site. There’s nothing entrepreneurs like better than feeling like a VIP, so maybe some of them went to the site just to see what preferred benefits were on offer.

But if they did, they were proceeding on curiosity, not in search of a product or benefit. Which means that while Bell might get them to go where it wanted, these visitors are ready to bail at the first sign of a hard sell – or any evidence that they're not as special as they’ve been led to believe.

Will Bell be up to the challenge? Is Donald Trump’s hair colour real? Check out our next post for the gruesome details.

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