Direct to Hell


There are a few things in life that sound like they’re going to be great but always seem to fail in practice: fondues, windows mobile devices, the conservative party. But surely king of the hill in terms of ‘will never live up to expectations’ is direct marketing.

Advertising is so random, we hear. So what we should do is collect loads of data about people and make sure they only get the most relevant messages. The only problem is – who do we put in charge of gathering all that vital data? It’s marketing people. They’d love to help, but they’re already a little late for lunch at the Ivy.

So we end up with content which is worse than proper advertising (creative means  “change the format” not “people will like it”) which costs more money than proper advertising, often involves huge and embarrassing environmental damage, and is harder to ignore. Incidentally “harder to ignore” is not a brand positive guys!

On returning home tonight, I had to force the door open – as usual – over a pile of Foxton catalogues (full of sold houses) and direct mail. Amongst the usual pile of nonsense I found this archetype of DM trash :


The ‘creative’ idea is that I should shred my bill from my existing  supplier, and they bring this to life by “shredding” half of the letter. Brilliant. On the reverse of the mail pack is the name and address. And here’s the thing about targetting.

A friend of mine used to regularly take business trips to Lithuania, a fantastic part of the Baltic Republic where the EU dollars flow freely and everything is just starting out.

On one of those trips he met a lovely girl our there called Asta.

A couple of years later they’d split up but Asta decided she wanted to try her hand in the UK. I had a spare room at the time, I got on well with Asta and she was the best looking person I’d met in real life, so I agreed she could stay in my spare room. She registered for one bill (Southern Electric I think) in order to be able to prove she lived in the UK in case she decided this was a long-term kind of thing. 

Three months later, she moved back to Vilnius. London wasn’t as great as it had seemed, and it certainly wasn’t easy to get a graphic design job here.

The electric bill is registered to me again. Yet still the direct mail like this one keeps coming (mostly from estate agents urging her to sell). This targeted, accurate medium which drives value through intimacy is still mailing someone who never really moved here, never had residency, and had a total family income under £10. Hard to argue that the money wouldn’t have been better spent on TV advertising – in Lithuanian!