Wednesday, November 02, 2005

In Which Our Hero Wins an Echo Award and Threatens to Stomp On It

I just got back from the DMA's Echo Awards ceremony, and I'm a little ticked.

Not just because I came in third. Hey, I've been watching the Barbara Walters' Specials long enough to know that "I'm just honored to be nominated" ... and I've mastered that sphincter-squeezing little smile that Oscar nominees manage to put on their faces when the envelope is opened and someone else's name is announced.

No, I'm ticked because I don't believe I was competing on a level playing field. You see, I had written an actual direct-mail package. You know, the kind that is mailed to millions of people and is supposed to get an order back in return. But virtually all of my competitors were doing lead-generation dimensional mailings.

If that term is not familiar to you, picture this. Let's say you run a management consulting firm and you're trying to drum up business. So you send out a mailing to 100 hot prospects with the headline, "ARE YOUR PROFITS GOING DOWN THE TOILET?" And then just to drive the point home, you enclose an actual toilet in your mailing.

You think I'm kidding? I wish I were. During the awards ceremony, I saw winning mailings that contained blocks of ice, cases of beer, cell phones, live animals, you name it. Usually, these items are connected with some little direct-mail package that makes a pun on the enclosure, e.g. DOES YOUR CURRENT CELL PHONE COMPANY TREAT YOU LIKE A SMALL POTATO? ... enclosed, of course, is a small potato.

Geeze-louise! Let's put aside the fact that this kind of stuff is so easy to dream up that most good copywriters could do it in their sleep. What really bothers me is that it's not economically realistic. The only marketing situation in which such packages could possibly work is if you were selling a $50,000 product to a prospective customer list of 50 people. Even then, if your only goal is lead generation (and that was true of most of these packages), you'd still be better off with a well-written one-page letter in most cases.

I'm not an "awards-hating" absolutist like so many of my direct-mail colleagues are. (When I wrote to a few friends asking them if they were coming to Atlanta, they all replied that they wouldn't be caught dead at the DMA anymore and one said, "Richard, awards are like hemmorhoids. Eventually, every asshole gets one.") Awards have been good to me over the years, especially the Caples. But for heaven's sake, let's at least have a category for direct-mail packages created in the real world.

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