Direct action

Remember all those completely useless reader offers and special priced gadgets? In the smart Nineties, junk mail has been transformed into sophisticated direct marketing, and, says Fiona Keating, designers are getting a slice of the action.

Not so very long ago, pundits were all grimly predicting the demise of paper-based communications, the junking of junk mail, the end of the catalogue and the death of the letter. The future was electronic, with no more need for paper… or that was the story.

In fact, the reverse is true as we are continuing to use even more paper to communicate with each other. And the creative use of paper in direct marketing is an area of massive growth and part of the marketing/advertising mix that designers play a key role in. This market is worth big bucks. Expenditure is around 31.6bn per annum in the UK; there was a traffic of 18.7 billion items in the EU in 1993, with the UK accounting for 3.42 billion. EU direct mail has increased by 72 per cent per head of population in the last 12 years, and by 2001 will increase to 23 billion in Europe and 4 billion in the UK.

According to designer Sid Madge of Palmer Madge, electronic mail is a new form of communication which, contrary to predictions, has had the effect of increasing the use of paper. We still print out e-mails and other forms of electronic communication, he says, as people still have faith in a letter. There is a difference between viewing an e-mail on screen and actually reading hard copy on paper. “As a culture, we are not used to receiving things electronically,” explains Madge. “People like something to hold, whether it’s a mailing or brochure. The feel of good paper is important and that does make a difference. With most electronic files, there’s no emotional attachment.”

Madge believes that one of the biggest advantages of direct mailing is in delivering the message straight to the consumer. It’s a simple and effective method of marketing. You pick up the post in the morning and automatically read direct mail shots, even if they do end up in the bin. The challenge for designers is in trying to make sure that the direct mail they create is kept by the recipient and not just canned.

We are all victims of junk mail, says © Madge. His main concern is to produce a piece of direct mail with value for its intended audience. A recent project is a 24-page magazine for PC manufacturer Carrera, that performs a direct mail task. It’s basically a price catalogue but there is added benefit in the editorial pages which has information on the millennium bug, plus advice and tips on computer games.

Designers are also encroaching on traditional advertising territory. Madge believes it’s a gradual shift that has happened over the last four to five years. “A huge amount of our work is through-the-line,” reveals Madge. “This so-called line has always broken down where agencies can think through-the-line.” For Carrera, Palmer Madge handles all the monthly advertising for the major PC magazines and selected press. They are also responsible for its corporate brochures and advertising on the underground.

Because the media world has changed with the onset of the Internet, says Madge, people need an integrated solution where the above-the-line advertising is equally important as the below-the-line promotions. “We started as a design agency but we’ve moved through to deliver an all-round package,” he says.

The quality of paper in direct mail often has a direct impact on the project. Palmer Madge produced a mailing for Iomega, the computer data storage company, using the tactile qualities of GF Smith papers with a ribbed flute effect. Inside was a smooth box, which replicated the colours of a computer. As the lid opens, a Zip drive flips out, together with a brochure. Obviously, budget constraints limit the type of paper used. “Your quality is dictated by your economy,” says Madge.

The power of photography is not easily conveyed on a computer screen. Paper is still the preferred medium for putting across the powerful impact of images. Palmer Madge produced a direct mail shot for photographer David Townend with examples of his pictures ranging from the poll tax riot to portraits of a playwright.

Brian Webb of design consultancy Trickett & Webb has a theory about A4 paper: “With documents that size, there is an in-built message which says ‘File me’. They are either tucked away on shelves or put in the filing cabinet.” One of T&W’s projects, a brochure for Touchstone exhibitions, printed on Consort Silk, is A6 in size. It is, claims Webb, a must-have item. The aim is to design direct mail which will live on people’s desks, says Webb. “You’re always trying to get people’s brains engaged and make them want to turn the pages of a book or brochure. It’s all about audience participation.” Calendars are probably better value than any other marketing tool, as they sit on desks for a whole year, with eight hours viewing per day.

T&W designed a pop-up 1999 calendar for the Royal Society of Arts, as part of its mail-order catalogue, which launches this month. It is printed on Monadnock, an expensive American paper, chosen for its resilient qualities, density and ability to keep its shape even after extensive cutting and shaping. For general printing of halftones, Webb prefers using matt-coated papers such as Consort and Parallux, as it reproduces colour well.

In essence, paper is portable and tactile, with the added advantage of not needing a power supply. Although new media is very exciting, to argue that it will replace paper-based communications is to underestimate paper’s power. It seems more a case of traditional and electronic media forming a symbiotic relationship.

Environmental issues

Direct mail, specialist catalogues and contract magazines are the hardest drivers of demand for woodfree paper

The forecast for demand in woodfree coated paper will grow at 6 per cent across Europe until 2000

The estimated coated recycled paper usage in direct mail is 10-15 per cent

Source: Direct Marketing Association.

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