The doormat is starting to show signs of the kind of creativity
more often associated with television and poster ads. Envelopes are
arriving in the form of triangles and boomerangs, with windows cut to
special shapes, or even wrapped in pink fur. Anything to catch the
attention of consumers who might otherwise bin the missive unopened.
This willingness to experiment is being stimulated by the growth of
direct mail and fears that an offer may go unnoticed in the
scrum.Clients understand the need to take more risks these days,
especially in sectors such as media, IT and telecoms, which will often
use envelopes of unusual materials or shapes to get attention. Rapier,
for instance, tends to seek an imaginative twist when mailing to ntl's
digital TV prospects (see panel).
Vidhu Kapur, head of production at Harrison Troughtman Wunderman,
stresses the importance of relevance. "It's not about being creative for
creative's sake - in order to work it has to be connected to the
message," he points out.
For Vodafone, the agency designed an envelope in which the window was
shaped like a cinema screen with the heads of the audience silhouetted
underneath. This tied into the theme of the mailing, which drew
attention to the convenience of the text message function in cinemas
where the phone has to be switched to 'silent'.
When it comes to non-standard envelope sizes and materials, Royal Mail
might be expected to object. In fact, the opposite is true. It actively
promotes creative ideas as part of a drive to ensure a strong future for
direct mail. The Agency Insight section of its website offers
suggestions for unusual materials such as canvas, PVC and even fake fur,
used by that august organ the Financial Times when promoting a new
An alternative is embossing, favoured by financial services and the
professions, is to create a classy feel. John Dickinson employs special
textures such as a grooved design, consisting of parallel lines that run
down the envelope.
This is imprinted during the production process, which is more
cost-efficient than using specially textured paper. "When print is
applied it provides an arresting effect that makes it stands out well,"
explains product group manager Mark Beaumont-Thomas.
Increasingly, direct marketers try to provide a personal touch to win
the consumer's attention. To further this, John Dickinson is planning an
emboss that creates the illusion of a stamp at the top right hand
corner, a move which has been approved by Royal Mail.
Opportunities for bespoke have grown as manufacturers invest in new
equipment, in order to shorten production time frames, reduce costs and
Lead times have been halved to two or three weeks compared with a few
years ago. And the cost of cutting machines has come down, which has
made ventures such as specially shaped windows more viable.
Since January, Washington Envelopes has been providing flexographic
printing, a faster and more economic alternative to conventional
lithographic. In the past, its colour process was not as effective, but
technological advances mean this is now of comparable quality.
"Flexo is cost-effective and looks excellent," says sales director Julia
Corkhill. Instead of allowing time for the ink to dry between printing
and cutting, she explains, these machines can produce envelopes in a
single process, around 1000 a minute compared with only 400 on
Washington has been converting customers to the new process. One is
Britannia Music, which faces tight deadlines for weekly mailshots on new
CD offers and benefits from the fast turnaround. Another is Book Club
Associates, which uses envelopes printed in full colour for its
With ordering bespoke, a cardinal rule is to bring the provider into the
loop right at the start to avoid errors later. A common mistake is to
specify the wrong dimensions. This can bring problems when the mailing
is being collated: a tolerance of 10mm may seem sufficient to the
designer, but machines will not function unless envelopes are 16-30mm
wider than the biggest insert.
"It's something direct mailers have to wake up to," says Tony Toye,
managing director of National Envelopes. "If they get it wrong it can
end in disaster, as they have to redo the envelope or stuff each one in
Patrick Carter, sales manager at A1 envelopes, agrees. "If clients spoke
to us earlier in the campaign, we might be able to save them money and
show them the most cost-effective and workable solutions," he says. "One
client, for example, wanted to do one with a round window, but we
pointed out that it wouldn't have been able to show what was
Cut to fit
One tip with bespoke is to find out if a cutting machine, or 'knife,'
for the proposed job already exists, Carter suggests. If not, the
designer will have to factor in the cost of creating one, which can be
as much as £1,000 on top of other costs.
On the other hand some unusual designs are used so often that they could
usefully be kept as stock. One such is the square shape, which is
starting to be so popular that National Envelopes is planning to make it
available as a regular shelf item.
Bespoke may be more expensive, but properly tested and costed is capable
of boosting response well above average rates. For manufacturers the
proof of the pudding is in the eating and since clients keep coming back
for more, it must taste good to them.
CASE STUDY: NTL
Digital television is a sector where a bright, quirky approach is most
likely to go down well. Prospective customers of ntl recently received a
bright green envelope with a slice cut out of the right side, leaving a
projecting square where the stamp goes.
The insert was cut to the same shape, with a dotted line along the
protruding square and the words 'it's a rip-off' next to it, referring
to the exorbitant charges of other companies.
"This envelope created a lot of impact because it stands out," comments
John Townshend, creative director at ntl agency Rapier.
Such mailings can dramatically increase the return: an earlier mailing
consisted of six Tarot-size cards which detailed the available channels,
packed in an envelope of the same size. That increased the response from
a standard two per cent to eight per cent, with 80 per cent conversion.