Learn From Some of the Weirdest Direct Mail Campaigns Ever

by | Oct 25, 2016

Some direct mail campaigns seem to rely on tricks and treats to coax their way into a reader’s mailbox.

Today, we’re getting into the Halloween spirit and digging up some frighteningly good direct mail campaigns to share with you. If you read our October newsletter, you might recall an article about a rather disturbing direct mail campaign that involved a life-size burglar and an eerie message which left its recipients shocked and upset.

Scary Good Direct Mail

That’s not to say direct mail can’t also be shockingly good. Careful, creative, targeted mail can really stand out among the too-good-to-be-true sales jargon. Direct mail doesn’t have to mean over-the-top, gimmicky postcards flashing catch phrases like “FREE MONEY” and “WIN CASH NOW.” Direct mail can be very effective at building a personal relationship and a channel of communication with your clients. Focusing on emotional and personal connections brings back the novelty of print media.

Maybe we can scare you into re-evaluating your marketing campaign with a few terrifyingly good examples of direct mail originality. As promised, we’ve rounded up some of the most original and inventive campaigns to hit mailboxes:

Blood, Sweat, & Tears

Blood bag direct mailThe Prague-based marketing firm Touch Branding proved its commitment to giving literal blood, sweat, and tears for their clients with a direct mail campaign that included a real medical bag of fake blood. Intentionally making a dramatic and unsettling statement, Touch Branding purchased actual blood bags that were about to expire and followed a recipe to create their own blood. The exterior of the bags included the mailing address and a brief message from the company.

Postal Reporter News quotes the creative director as saying, “We felt that direct mail would work the best because once they unpacked the blood bags, there was no way they wouldn’t pay attention to the message we wanted to deliver.”

We don’t encourage companies to send out bodily fluids to their prospects, but the creepy campaign got its point across to grab attention and showcase their edgy personality.

Unfold a Shock in Your Direct Mail Campaign

burglar direct mailLike we mentioned in our October newsletter, customers of wholesale insurance broker Mercator (recently purchased by Vanbridge Holdings Ltd.) received more than they bargained for in a large, innocuous white envelope from the company. When they tugged on the upper edge of what appeared to be a black postcard, a full-size cutout of a menacing burglar dressed in all black and wearing a mask unfolded an inch at a time.

The 2-D assailant held a sign that said, “It’s that easy to get into your house.” The intruder was followed by a note asking how well the recipient thought they were insured in the case of a burglary or a casualty caused by one. The message of fear was terrifyingly effective, even though this kind of direct mail sneak-attack isn’t for everyone.

No Strings (or Sales Jargon) Attached

The rest of these notable direct mail campaigns weren’t necessarily “fear-inducing,” but they created memorable emotional experiences for their recipients.

A successful way to bring value to your reader through a direct mail campaign is a useful, purposeful gift. I don’t mean a monogrammed pen or another stress ball. Think of something that is both useful and unique, and give your prospects a good surprise.

candles direct mailWWF promoted its annual Earth Hour event, for example, with a direct mail campaign to corporate CEOs. This wasn’t a scary or shocking campaign, but it used the same powerful imagery and emotional connection. Earth Hour encourages people to turn off their lights for one hour, uniting together to bring awareness to conservation efforts that protect our planet.

Their direct mail campaign included a uniquely-shaped box designed like a skyscraper office building, with a yellow candle inside. The box has square cutouts like little windows, and removing the yellow candle from the box appears to “turn off the lights” from inside.

The candle is a practical gift, relevant to the event and sporting an original concept. The subtle message encouraged companies to participate with a less intrusive message. Thanks to their creative thinking, Earth Hour saw a 260 percent increase in corporate participation from the previous year.

Play With Their Senses

When was the last time you found a record player in your mailbox? Chances are, a cardboard campaign doubling as a music player (complete with an actual record, of course) would warrant a second look before getting tossing in the junk pile.

record mailerGriffiths, Gibson, and Ramsay Productions is a Vancouver-based sound design company. Their cardboard mailer sleeve that folded into a record player has arguably been one of the most inventive pieces of mail we’ve seen. Recipients simply used a pencil to hand-turn the record and play the audio. Completing the package was an original children’s audio story titled “A Town That Found its Sound.”

This campaign is phenomenal for so many reasons. It’s nostalgic. It’s inventive. It’s interactive. The children’s story is both entertaining and informative. In fact, Griffiths, Gibson, and Ramsay Productions was overwhelmed with requests for extra copies of the mailer, and they caught the attention of creative managers and ad agencies internationally.

Raise Some Hell

fortune cookie mailA New Zealand pizza company, Hell Pizza, uses a clever and inexpensive (not to mention, edible!) direct mail campaign with quirky “Mis-Fortune” cookies. These aren’t your typical Chinese food fortune cookies; each cookie is filled with an … unsettling message. Some are so scandalous, we can’t repeat them!  Here are a few that were suitable for print:

“Cookies expire 02/03/09.”

“Help! I’m being held prisoner in a Chinese bakery!”

“Cookies may contain traces of spider eggs.”

All in good humor! This is a fantastic example of how companies can creatively showcase their personality through marketing campaigns. Though I suggest you eat at your own risk.


Don’t Make a Mess

An Italian laundry service, LavOnline, used a direct mail campaign to raise brand awareness and educate prospective clients on its two core benefits: speed and convenience. Their target market is young white-collar professionals.

The campaign involved a box and a tomato. The box unfolds into the shape of a white shirt with a target in the center. Inside the box is a toy tomato, squishy like a stress ball. tomato mailerThrow the tomato at the shirt’s target and watch it SPLAT into a mess. The tomato instantly collects itself back into a neat tomato, metaphorically representing the speed and ease of using LavOnline laundry services.

Let this tomato remind you to never underestimate the inner-child inside even the most professional of prospects. LavOnline was able to track the success of this campaign, and they reported 32 percent of recipients registered for the company’s online services within four weeks. To offer some perspective on this success, most direct mail campaigns are considered successful with a mere 1 percent response rate.

Give Them Something They Can Feel

Research shows that shaking things up with your prospects, leading to an unexpected emotional response, may be the key to memorability. Emotion-inspiring events leave the kinds of memories that not only stick, but are actually so strong they are remembered longer and more intensely. Take the emotion that you would like your customers to feel, and find a marketing approach that will elicit the same response. Your company and this emotion will have a stronger link in their brain.

The feeling most likely to surface with statements like “Free Money!!!!” is skepticism. Consumers are too familiar with the gimmicks and sales tactics buy in to sensational marketing headlines.

The key is to focus on how your offer will impact your consumers. What experience can you deliver that will cause them to have an intense emotional response? This depends heavily on the nature of your product. From eliciting maternal instinct, nostalgia, relaxation, or even child-like curiosity, think about your ideal response.

An emotional reaction — fear-provoked or otherwise — will help your direct mail recipients pay closer attention to you and your brand. The personal connection increases their likelihood to reach out and investigate your products and services.

With or without the use of explosives or contaminated cookies, the one-two punch of a memory made stronger by an extreme emotional response is exactly what you need to create an engaging and profitable direct mail campaign.

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