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Creativity online

February 23, 2009

At one point in my career, I worked as a copywriter in a direct marketing shop. I remember two things specifically about writing a DM letter.

1. The PS is the most important part of the letter. It should repeat the offer, sum up the letter.

As the guy writing the rest of the letter, I wondered what would be the point of writing a letter if everything was going to be summed up in the PS.

Especially since people told me that “Everyone reads the PS”. And the reality is, if someone cares in the slightest and opens of the envelope (and often they don’t) and opens the letter (which they don’t) and looks at the big box on the top of the letter (called a Johnson Box), they will jump down to the PS because direct marketers have taught them that they don’t actually have to read the letter, it’s all in the PS.

That was my argument once. Lets just do a letter that says:

Dear John Q. Sample,

We were going to write a flowing copy letter, but no one reads them. So, in the interest of time, we’ll let you skip to the PS, which is where you were going anyway.

But that’s when I learned something else about direct marketing – the creative doesn’t really matter. It’s list (the people who will get the thing in the mail) and offer that really matter in direct.

Those are the things that get the 3-4% response rate.

Not creative. Actually, that isn’t true either. I remember having real conversations with people who thought that black pen signatures got more ‘lift’, ie response, than blue.

The point is, the content was secondary to the machine. And that’s what happen to the banner ad, in my opinion. At first, people clicked banners ads because it was cool. Ads online.

But as banner ads became all about clicks, they started doing tricks to get people to click. It wasn’t an effort to move someone to click, in the same way that a DM letter wasn’t an effort ot move them through a story. It was simply an effort to get them the offer. Fast.

And online, they could click right them and there. And the people would know if the effort was a success because they could watch the clicks in real time.

But like the direct mail letter that only cares about the 3-4% of the people who respond, the banner ad, and online advertising, never cared about the people who don’t click.

The second problem with online.

The second is one of strategy. if it’s true that good creative comes from a good brief (ie, strategy), then what does creative that has no strategy end up looking like?

A Website.

That’s right, the marketing reason for a website in the early years was “because everyone else has one”. I’m painting all websites with a pretty broad stroke here, and have actually talked to people who didn’t do it like this, but they are the minority, so I’ll press on.

Without a strategy, there was no real call for ideas. If a marketing piece doesn’t attempt to change or drive behavior, then it doesn’t need an idea. And when there’s no idea, the result is an online brochure because it’s unclear what else to do.

So here we are. The internet is a huge part of people’s lives, but it’s not a part of agency life. Not really. Agencies still have creative departments and interactive departments, as if the two things are different. Agency titles telegraph the difference, but more and more, that mindset needs to change.

The cross roads are here. Future Lab has a white paper called: Reconsidering the advertising agency. Go read it and think about it.

For the record, I’ve been considering it for a long time.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. RSA permalink
    February 24, 2009 1:55 pm

    Awesome post Matt. As a former DM’er myself, I can’t agree more.

    Always thought that a 2% response rate was really a 98% opportunity rate.

    The only thing I would add is a line that I have stolen from Beckwith’s “Selling The Invisible”: America is a service market economy with a product marketing model. Service marketing takes understanding and listening to your customer. To get a step change in your marketing results you need more than just a better PS and blue ink.

  2. February 24, 2009 8:28 pm

    Listen. Marketers need to learn that skill in 2009. I like 98% opportunity rate.

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