The Annual 2004: The Year in ... Direct Marketing

After a creatively disappointing year for direct marketing, Rory Sutherland wonders if the sector would benefit from a greater sense of purpose. Before I sat down to write this direct marketing review of 2004, I asked a few industry folk to e-mail me the year's significant stories.

My memory for dates is rubbish and I often have no idea in which decade anything happened, never mind the year, so without help I might have found myself writing of things that had actually happened years ago: my sadness at Claude Hopkins' death, perhaps; Notley's new campaign for Sturmey Archer; a client requesting original photography; or - and I can just remember this - a DM agency appointing as its creative director someone who wasn't already a creative director somewhere else.

But, having read what actually did happen in 2004, I'm damned if I can see any pattern at all.

I suppose you could detect a trend in very senior people from larger agencies heading somewhere more intimate: Simon Hall leaving Proximity to start the direct arm of CHI (where he was later joined by Warren Moore) and Martin Troughton departing Harrison Troughton Wunderman for Red Cell.

Both cited frustration with large-agency bureaucracy as a factor behind their moves - surprisingly in Martin's case, since agencies run by Harrison and Troughton are not usually notable for their extended reporting lines and widely devolved responsibilities.

If there is another theme, I think you could also say there is a mild optimism about the industry again. And big agencies are looking forward to the return of the big project - without which there's no virtue in being big. But other trends are more contradictory. There is now not a single major ad agency that does not have a direct agency aligned to it and, in one case (TBWA\GGT and Tequila), two agencies are supposedly about to fuse. Yet this apparent trend towards consolidation is balanced by a large number of wholly independent new outfits (iris is one example) that do well on their own and a Willott Kingston Smith survey suggesting independents are typically more profitable.

Creatively, it has been a fallow year. Creditably, a few of the best campaigns from years past have continued to run (M&G Investments, Skoda) but not much fresh has happened. Publicis' work for HP is a rare exception.

Other welcome arrivals to direct marketing have been the unlikely duo of McDonald's and the NHS. The latter is a particularly creditable use of a targeted medium; after hundreds of millions of pounds spent indiscriminately browbeating smokers, someone had the wit to put a few pounds aside and create a DM programme to lend targeted support to smokers at the point they decide to quit.

But we are woefully short of such breakthroughs. In fact, so little progress has been made that it might be more informative if I also compile a shortlist of what hasn't happened.

Little new blood seems to be appearing. The same creative directors and managing directors seem to rotate jobs as if on a merry-go-round. In the year of Johnny Ramone's death, it would be good to see signs that youthful rebellion still lives - a new wave of thinking from the younger generation - but I'm still waiting. In this, we are not helped by the narrowness of our recruitment, nor by the feeble conformity of the young, for whom rebellion means buying a slightly unusual brand of trainers.

There are still virtually no big-budget campaigns where DM media takes the lead. I believe this is down to audience definition. So long as the default terms used to define a target audience are the same flabby terms used to buy mass TV, DM will forever be seen as marginal to the task.

It would help if media agencies refined the tools of audience definition.

And if pigs worked harder developing their aerobatic skills.

Most DM agencies have not properly embraced new media - indeed, most of the winning entries at the Echoes would not have looked out of place in 1994. We are in danger of becoming the Anglicans of the marketing world, trapped in the space between the unwavering resistance to change of the Catholics in advertising and the swivel-eyed evangelicals in new media. Too few campaigns are being created using new media and old synergistically.

Moore's Law continues to have no effect on the business of database management, with selections, de-dupes and all that weird stuff about "fields" looking just as slow and inflexible as in 1988, when things arrived on tape.

Last, direct marketers still have no clear sense of purpose single-minded enough to carry to marketers and boardrooms. Our media isn't fragmenting, but our message is.

In 2004, for the first (and, please God, last) time, I found myself attending Cannes and the Direct Marketing Association Awards in the same year. The contrast could not be greater. Cannes is in many ways a monstrous affair: self-indulgent, self-referential, with about as much connection to the business of marketing as catwalk clothes have with keeping you warm. But it is absolutely clear what the gig is about. The DMA was worthy, serious-minded, business-focused, but almost entirely without any sense of purpose.

That's the task for the next five years. A task, sadly, in which we shall not be joined by Reimer Thedens, who retires this year as the head of OgilvyOne Worldwide.

Unusually, I can say what a splendid boss he has been with no fear of grovelling. His Teutonic disdain for Campaign means there is not the slightest chance of his reading this.

- Rory Sutherland is the vice-chairman and executive creative director at OgilvyOne Worldwide.


1. Hewlett Packard "Hype" exhibition

Getting hip young urbanites interested in an unglamorous product - the printer - isn't the dream brief. But Publicis Dialog rose to the challenge. The Hype exhibition at the Truman Brewery on London's Brick Lane offered the target audience - the so-called iMac generation - a chance to exhibit their art work, at the same time as raising their awareness of the HP brand. The only requirement for inclusion was that the title of the work had to include the letters "H" and "P". Publicis Dialog used a broad range of media, including ambient, DM and online, to infiltrate the target audience's world and capture their interest.

Agency: Publicis Dialog

Writer: Chris Aldhous

Art director: Peter Hodgson

2. Lexus "Conde Nast Traveller"

This is direct marketing that knows its audience and how to flatter it. Partners Andrews Aldridge's campaign for its most prestigious client played straight to the heart of its prospective customers with its intelligent targeting and elegant execution. The mailing aimed to make recipients feel they were part of an exclusive club. Targets received a copy of Conde Nast Traveller with an outer cover carrying the words: "We're only advertising the SC430 to a few select individuals." The magazine fell open at an ad for Lexus with the recipient's name on it.

Agency: Partners Andrews Aldridge

Writer: Shaun Moran

Art director: Paul Walton

3. Guinness, "harmonica"

Tullo Marshall Warren has been producing the goods for Guinness for years and this piece wowed the judges at the 2004 Campaign Direct Awards. To mark St Patrick's Day, the agency sent Guinness drinkers a harmonica and a guide to playing the booze anthem The Irish Rover. Half of those mailed said they celebrated St Patrick's Day with a Guinness and 85 per cent - including the Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles - admitted to playing their harmonicas.

Agency: Tullo Marshall Warren

Writer: Daren Kay

Art directors: Mark Reddick, Dan Kevin

4. "taxi cards"

M& C Saatchi created bogus cab cards bearing information about the dangers of unlicenced taxi cabs, and distributed them to pubs, clubs, shops and homes. The cards promoted as a safe alternative. The work showed how smart thinking can be brilliantly effective without a huge media spend.

Agency: M&C Saatchi

Writer: Tom Spicer

Art director: Sergio Martin

5. St Mungo's "scent strip"

Saatchi & Saatchi has won a lot of awards for its work for its charity clients over the years. But good work is good work no matter for whom and this piece, for the homelessness charity St Mungo's, won Best Use of Press in this year's Campaign Direct Awards. An insert-strip smelling of urine made the point that, for homeless people, what you can find to eat and where you can sleep take priority over how you smell.

Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi

Writers/art directors: Guy Bradbury, Eoghain Clarke

6. Skoda Octavia launch

This was an intelligent extension of the above-the-line idea that encourages drivers to be different and drive a Skoda. Archibald Ingall Stretton's integrated approach engaged its audience across a range of below-the-line channels; a fake driving licence was mailed out to prospects and a tax disc was inserted in magazines. The creative, which extended to petrol nozzles, suggests that while people have to pay the same road tax, carry the same licence or use the same petrol as everyone else, they don't have to drive the same car.

Agency: Archibald Ingall Stretton

Writer: John Vinton

Art director: Martin Lythgoe

7. Court Security "burglar"

If you want to sell products that make people feel safe in their homes, you have to get them to think about what it would be like to have their privacy invaded. This is the idea behind this typically straightforward mailing from Steve Harrison's team at Harrison Troughton Wunderman. The mailing, which was hand delivered to prospects, had already been opened. The letter inside carried the headline: "If this is how it feels when you think a stranger's been through your mail, imagine how you'd feel if he'd been through your house."

Agency: Harrison Troughton Wunderman

Writer: Iain Hunter

Art director: Jamie Bell

8. First Direct "boiled sweet"

A typically charming campaign from Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel, even though charm isn't something you normally associate with financial services brands. The A6-size pack came in a boiled-sweet wrapper with the words: "Bite size information inside." It was sent to warm prospects to explain the benefits of joining First Direct, and real humbugs were included to sweeten the message.

Agency: Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel

Writer: Rebecca Rae

Art director: Leigh Roberts

9. Heineken "bottle protector"

The lager brand's first foray into direct marketing worked on several different levels. The bubble-wrap bottle protector suggested that the beer was worth keeping safe, and backed up the above-the-line claim that the lager had improved in quality. The mailer also showed real insight into its audience: it offered recipients the chance to pick up a free bottle of beer. After all, isn't a free pint all lager drinkers are really interested in?

Agency: Hall Moore CHI

Writer: Liam Donnelly

Art director: Phil Holbrook

10. Sony PlayStation 2 "masks"

Despite the tell-tale "fun anyone" strapline, this carefully targeted mailing doesn't look like much at first. But open it up and inside lurk eight half-masks of human faces, each of which has been designed to reflect the content of one of a range of new PlayStation games. A "bulldog" jaw with pointy canines illustrates Dog's Life, while a sneering gangster is the face of Locked & Loaded.

Agency: Claydon Heeley Jones Mason

Writer: Josh Haines

Art director: Nick Thompson


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