The Five Senses of Direct Mail. Whoda Thunk It?

By | January 17, 2013

Direct mail can now deliver sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. That’s all five of the human senses. And guess what? So far, mail is the only marketing medium that can do all that. Likely, for the next few years anyway, direct mail will remain — and vastly improve upon — this full sensory capability.

Sight. Well, that’s what direct mail has always been. Something to look at, something to read. Even in its most simple form, direct mail can be amazingly effective. Consider this simple sampler from GEICO.

Sound. If you’ve received a birthday card in the last year or two, you’ve probably experienced audio by mail. The technology is commonplace and still evolving. Check out this version of variable print combined with variable audio from Big Dawgs promotion.

Smell. The Scent Marketing Institute was founded in 2004, but today the organization sponsors ScentWorld, a worldwide conference coming up February 6-8 in New York City. The organization’s “knowledge base” features 160+ articles related to the use of scent in marketing. Check out a few case examples of scented direct mail here.  Meanwhile, technology buffs should check out this story about a scent-capturing printer that recognizes odors and translates them onto a tangible postcard paper.

Touch. Embossing, irregular shapes, dye cuts, glued on items (magnets, tea bags, coins) metallic finishes, and other “feel-me” attributes give direct mail a touch-me dimension. Set up as a division of ImageWorks Manufacturing in 2003, Shipshapes is just one of the companies that is seeking to refine direct mail touch.

Taste. Yes, you can taste it. First Flavor, Inc. offers direct mailers edible Peel ‘n Taste® strips. How might that go down? Mylanta used taste to help prospective customers compare their flavor to competitor, Maalox.

How about some case studies of sensory direct mail? Check out Deliver magazines’s article from last fall, which featured TruGreen Lawn Care’s use of a scented postcard or a political candidate’s use of “old garbage” to demonstrate something “stinky;”

And then there are the sensual combinations. Video first appeared on the printed page in an issue of Entertainment Weekly back in 2009. No, it’s not cheap and it may not be in wide use (yet). But if you’re into direct mail professionally, you know video is an option right now from technology partners Chicago’s Fusion92. 

Right now, are American consumers ready for their sensory experiences via direct mail? So far, maybe not so much. But as augmented reality delivers more ways to experience print, the appetites should grow.



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6 thoughts on “The Five Senses of Direct Mail. Whoda Thunk It?

  1. Walt Atkins

    Only five great sensory thoughts?
    How about two more senses that direct mail delivers?
    Don’t forget the kenesthtic sense, the sense of movement, such as the die-cut zipper delivers to recipients ripping open a self-mailer.
    How about the irresistable desire to liberate a die-cut element and insert it into a slot or open a perfed window to reveal a hidden message?
    (Yes, they could be sub-sets of touch and sight, but are worth mentioning.)
    Everyone has a mail box and checks it every day, so creative direct mail will rule when it comes time to stand out in the marketplace!
    Keep up the good work.

  2. Nancy Scott

    Walt! Brilliant. Kinesthetic, of course. And I think pop-ups would definitely fall into this category of “move it and love it.” Keep ’em coming!

  3. Thaddeus B. Kubis

    Don’t limit the senses to just direct mail. All print media will soon have the capability to be senses driven. IBM announced that with 5 years computers will have the ability to use all human senses.

    Think publishing, think books, think packaging, think print, think integration of all things print with all things digital.

    P2D and P+D the future is here!


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