The Dark Side of Direct Mail

By | April 28, 2011

By Liz Swanson

There’s no question that today’s consumer is overwhelmed by the amount of marketing messages they encounter. Every day, they come across thousands of emails, direct mail pieces, advertisements, web banners, texts, and so on. They’ve almost become numb to the selling, which means that marketers have to find new and creative ways to break through the white noise.

Unfortunately in the quest to be THE message that is heard on any given day, sometimes a marketer will go a little too far–and enters the dark side of direct mail marketing. The message is heard for all the wrong reasons, leaving the consumer confused, angry or manipulated.

Recently, posted an article about a direct mail campaign that went out to an unknown number of National Grid customers from HomeServe USA, an insurance company that sells coverage for furnace and plumbing repairs.

The intention of the mailing was win back former customers and have them reactivate their insurance coverage with HomeServe USA. Instead, many of the recipients thought they had received a bill from National Grid. The direct mail piece contained National Grid’s logo, had a design lay-out similar to a bill with an amount due, and the warning that it was “Payable Upon Receipt.” Not until the fine print on the second page was HomeServe USA referenced.

Just read the comments to the article to get a sense of how duped some customers felt. While it’s true that they had National Grid’s permission to use its logo and name, HomeServe USA should have been more upfront with their audience about the intention of the mailing.

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office is now investigating the complaints about the mailing, meaning HomeServe USA could be facing criminal charge for deceptive marketing practices.

Yes, consumers should read their mail before blindly sending money to a company. BUT with effective direct marketing, the message and call-to-action should be crystal clear to the recipient. It’s our job as marketers not to confuse or deceive our audience because once we do, we lose trust.


Elizabeth Swanson is a Marketing Services Specialist with Iron Mountain

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4 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Direct Mail

  1. Alin Jacobs

    I totally agree with your thoughts. One of my biggest direct marketing dislikes has always been faux check in the window envelope. It may get opened, but I’m sure it raises more than a few eyebrows.

  2. Bob Raus

    Great article. To me, it comes down to personal and corporate integrity. I refuse to even acknowledge receipt of misleading or unscrupulous marketing materials. For example, when a retail company has a perpetual going-out of business sale or a car dealer has a series of radio or television ads with huge flashing words and announcers shouting at me, I know it’s time to move on because these are classic forms of misleading sales tactics.

    The HomeServe USA example here is is clearly much more subtle and misleading than a car dealership ad. I recommend that we all read the fine print, and leave the shouting to WWF advertisements and other forms of entertainment.

  3. Plumbing

    The advantage over direct mail marketing is that it takes much less time to reach a customer than mailing. Like people check their mailboxes daily, inbox is also checked by majority of the web users on a every day basis. The dark side of email advertising is spamming or also recognized as bulking. Some businesses collect email addresses of men and women illegally and send irrelevant mails to them, which can be really annoying.

  4. Direct Marketing Services

    Just like to add to the article – Keys to successful direct marketing are to define and understand your key audience, and offer a specific, trackable call-to-action to evoke a response from the customer that will lead to future interactions with your business.

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