The DM Essays: Introduction

It's a funny old time for direct marketing. Few doubt that in the three decades since the term was coined, has there been a better chance for DM to make the most of its potential. Its arguments have been well made, armed with an unmistakable bit of extra self-belief of late. At last, direct marketers say, their audience is really listening. But the truth is that progress has been more sluggish than many of us imagined.

True, direct is emerging from the worst recession since the early 90s in better fettle than its peer disciplines. And, yes, its agencies have proved more efficient than above-the-line agencies, for which the super groups should be thankful. But, a year after Campaign launched the DM essays, little has happened to help DM seize its opportunities.

There haven't been enough beefy pitches to get things moving, for a start.

The big clients have consolidated their business into a lucky few. These lucky few, many of which are still making an embarrassing number of redundancies, are running their prized accounts at a loss just to hang on to them. And, sadly, the market lacks a truly revolutionary start-up, a Clemmow Hornby Inge or a Naked, to give it a much-needed kick up the backside, move the work around and get people thinking differently.

Things seem to be a bit stuck.

Beyond all this, it's hard to be too negative about direct. Sure, it is difficult to celebrate responsiveness as direct mail open and read rates tumble. Or efficiency as the mountain of packages on the welcome mat grows ever taller.

Even so, the fact is that modern direct agencies increasingly have what 21st-century clients want. Expertise across all media, ultra-sophisticated measurement systems and so much data they probably know more about you than you know yourself.

But where direct agencies are really threatening to tread on toes is creativity. "Creativity that works," they call it. Just as clients want more effective advertising, they also want more creative DM. And direct agencies are beginning to deliver the goods, rubbishing the assumption that just because an ad has a response mechanism built into it, it can't be both effective and creative.

Best of all, there's a buzz about direct that runs throughout the following pages. It seems that "double art on a Friday afternoon" feeling, typical of a vibrant ad agency, is creeping into direct agencies too.

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