The Opposite of Transparency: When Direct Mail Looks Like a Bill

To rephrase a popular quote from Shakespeare, “a rose by any other name may not smell as sweet.”

Direct MailAfter purchasing my first home a few weeks ago, I have been closely checking my mail to ensure I receive everything I need for the house. As a marketer, I always enjoy seeing a good creative mailer and I have received a few of those along with some nicely done coupons to local businesses.

On the flip side, there have been a couple of companies that instead of designing creative direct mail pieces, simply disguised their marketing mailer as a bill. I will be the first to admit, one company actually had me thinking I owed money to them (don’t judge, buying a new house comes with all sorts of bills) because its mailer looked just like a regular invoice – from the packaging down to the contents. However, after a minor freak out, I realized it was a classic direct marketing piece meant to trick me.


What lazy, unethical marketer thought it would be a good idea to use as its creative strategy the design of a mailer that looked like a bill? A mailing whose sole intention was to trick the recipient?

Bills are my least favorite thing to get in the mail and I am sure most people would agree. So, how exactly does this non-transparency make any sense? What is its value? Not only does it not get paid, but you develop a negative relationship.

And how is that creative?

Fair enough, maybe you trick a few people into paying it, but then what? Because I was smart (or lucky) enough to not be fooled by these mailers, it nonetheless happened a couple of times and served no purpose other than to scare and aggravate me. And of course, it has shut the door on any possible future business with these brands.

When it comes to direct mail and marketing in general, perhaps in addition to strategy and creativity it would be helpful to remember that transparency is also appreciated by your target audience.

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