Direct Marketing: Great Industry, Crappy Name.

Monday May 17, 2010

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A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the 32nd Annual Caples Awards. For those of you unfamiliar with this contest, it’s the Grammys of Direct Marketing (I’m reserving the Tonys title for the Echo Awards and Oscars for Cannes Direct…sorry).

As the stories about the award-winning work were presented and the trophies handed out, a co-worker of mine leaned over and asked, “What’s direct about that execution?” It was a good point. Seems like the lines between direct and general are blurring. But one distinction still stands the test of time-when you work in direct marketing you carry a proverbial scarlet letter.

To see what I’m talking about just walk through many agencies, and too often you’ll notice a common theme. The advertising folks and the direct guys are clearly, and in my opinion deliberately, separated. Whether it’s different floors or different corners of the office, when you work in DM are you (unofficially) the ugly stepchild of the agency?

But why? We give brands the same coddling and pampering as the general guys. Why do we seem to suck at positioning our own industry? I mean, we’re direct marketers. We can segment, calculate and rationalize data till the cows come home. Perhaps it’s time we apply all that smart thinking to address our own selfish needs.

What’s in a name?

First off, it’s time to re-brand. Direct marketing sounds more like a clinical diagnosis than an inspiring and exciting industry. In the UK, direct is known as response advertising. Still a little dry, but at least it has the word advertising in it-alluding to the fact that one would find exciting and dare I say, creative advertising work.

We need a name that speaks to what we do today. Direct marketing has come a long way from buckslips and number 10 envelopes. A good direct campaign connects with people, starts conversations and then, if you’re lucky, takes on a life all its own.

Just like Australian shop BMF did with their integrated campaign for beer manufacturer Lion Nathan and their Tooheys Extra Dry brand. Using the principle of “Six degrees of separation” they invited young beer drinkers to leverage their network so they could eventually have a drink with their idols. Videos were made and followed each participant as they got one step closer to meeting their famous friends. Watch the award entry video for the “Six Beers of Separation” campaign here. It’s smart, targeted, creative and best of all, it actually worked!

Perception is everything.

Next, we need to start changing how direct marketing is seen within the ad community. Admittedly this is a tall order. Things started to look up when we adopted interactive into the direct marketing family (perhaps a post for another day). But we still need to do a better job of making DM more relevant, and ultimately more respected.

I’m not saying this for my own selfish reasons, but rather for the health of direct marketing. Think about it: what young writer or art director from the Miami Ad School is going to choose a DM gig over a general one? If we don’t do a better job positioning our industry, this perception problem will be the least of our worries.

Perhaps the simplest solution is to get back to why we got into advertising in the first place-to celebrate awesome ideas. Whether that idea gets executed in the form of a mobile app or a dimensional mailer, isn’t the point. Great work is just that-great.

Now all we need are more creatives from every corner of the shop to recognize that.

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May 19th, 2010 | 1:19 pm