Ever since the invention of mail delivery, we have had to endure direct response solicitations. These ads-to-your-door may be informative, helpful and economical. But as Scott G points out, they can also be sneaky, intrusive and surprisingly distasteful.

Don’t get me wrong, I like direct mail advertising. Well, I often hate it, too, but you cannot beat a brand spanking new colorful catalog showing a batch of goodies you secretly covet and having it delivered right to your front door.

For me, the best catalogs are the compendiums of musical recording gear. For others, it might be books, clothing, vacation destinations, chocolates or hobby supplies.

Whatever it is that makes you drool, someone probably has a catalog of it, a nice big fat juicy volume that they’re willing to send you, often free of charge.

Scott G speaking at an industry functionTrouble is, the printing and postage costs keep rising, and retailers look for extra ways to achieve revenue. Selling or renting their mailing lists (dare we call them “sucker lists”?) is one way to make a little more income. This is why you find yourself the recipient of wonderfully worded announcements for goods and services you do not need and do not want.

Allow me to present three examples I received in the past week:

Misplaced Marketing Approach
“Win a pre-paid cremation” said the letter. Yes, it’s an attention-getting gambit or “grabber.” It’s also in questionable taste. At least they didn’t put an expiration date on the offer.

Sent from The Neptune Society, which calls itself “America’s cremation specialists,” the note is well written and not overly offensive in any other way. It’s just the offer that’s cheesy, blatant and misguided in the extreme.

I suppose various ideas were considered for their special offer. “Win a box of illegal fireworks” may have been their second choice. Or perhaps “Win a lifetime supply of condoms.”

In glancing at the conclusion of the letter, I notice they state confidently, “If you are not interested in spending your family’s inheritance on embalming, caskets, vaults, markers, fancy funeral homes or cemetery property, then we have the answer!”

Yes, they make liberal use of exclamation points! In fact, 50% of the sentences end with them! (See how annoying that gets?!)

Ironically, the letter was addressed to my mother, who purchased pre-paid cremation from this very firm more than a dozen years ago. Why didn’t they check their database before sending this thing?

Sneak Attack
The post card from Air King, a firm specializing in installation and maintenance of air conditioning, couldn’t have been simpler: it was black-and-white, contained no photos, and featured text in capital letters as if printed from an old teletype machine in a government back office.

Under a stark heading of “Service Reminder” is a semi-ominous-looking line that reads “Notice #SR-364/367.” That’s an easy way to make the card appear to be official.

The brief message then informs the reader that “Your A/C system may be due for its annual health and safety inspection.” You have to admire the use of the word “health” in that sentence. Does it refer to the health of the A/C, the health of your family, or to meeting some new safety code aimed at preventing the spread of avian flu? Whatever interpretation you put on it works to their advantage.

Next, the text recommends that “your system is inspected immediately.” Good technique here: in carny slang, I think it’s called “prodding the mark.” The piece asks you to “schedule your inspection,” which follows the approved “Glengarry Glen Ross” advice of ABC: Always Be Closing.

Finally, it notes that if you make your appointment soon enough, you “will be eligible for a $50 energy rebate.” Not that you’ll receive one, of course, but you’ll be eligible for one.

It’s a beautiful low-cost direct mail solicitation, IMHO. It’s hard-hitting without appearing to be pushy, and accomplishes its work with only about 50 words. But it’s sneaky and just above being underhanded.

Blast from the Past
The last sales pitch was both the funniest and the saddest. It came from The Island Hotel in Newport Beach and included a reprint of a Los Angeles Times story about the place, which contained delicious tidbits of information such as the price of a “room-service breakfast of eggs . . . $32 with service fees” and the speculation that the staff effectiveness is the result of “incentives, like money or, sometimes, fear.”

The story and the enclosed flyer also extolled the virtues of the Palm Terrace Restaurant & Lounge, and offered the headline news that “the inimitable Jimmy Hopper has returned to our lounge every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening.”

In the Times, the inimitable Mr. Hopper is called a “Vegas-style singer,” whatever that means. Their review, by Valli Herman, concludes with a description so horrifying I cannot imagine why the hotel left it in the reprint:

Hopper’s classic rock sets have earned a lively, if aging, following who don’t mind that the singer with the punk haircut needs glasses to read his lyrics. Guys camouflage their gray with highlights, tuck their bellies into leather pants, and betray their fantasies with age-inappropriate dates. Just watch out for the tipsy middle-aged woman singing along to the Journey power ballads. Turn your back, and she’ll hit on your date.

That was the funny part. Okay, it was also quite sad. But here comes the really sad part. Addressed to my father, the letter includes this line: “We at The Island Hotel would like to thank you for your support during a remarkable transitional year.” Unless the transitional year they’re speaking about was in the previous century, they’re a little off target. My father died nine years ago.

[tags]direct mail, gman, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, marketing, Los Angeles Times, cremation, home repair[/tags]