Postal scares change tack of direct-mail campaigns

Perfect packaging
Tips from the Direct Marketing Association
  • Clearly display the return address and phone number on the envelope or package.
  • Make logos prominent.
  • Tell what’s inside.
  • Secure contents so they don’t move around.
  • Use phone or e-mail to tell people that mail is coming.

  • Because of the anthrax scare, automotive marketers are re-evaluating their direct-mail programs.

    Though marketers plan to sustain the total 2001 spending of about $543.3 million, they are toning down creative packaging and the content.

    No one wants to repeat the chaos that surrounded Nissan Division’s mailing in late September.

    The division sent big containers in the shape of pill bottles to 250,000 consumers to promote the 2002 Altima. The mailing scared at least 30 recipients into contacting Nissan about what might be inside. The division stopped shipments within 24 hours.

    In Germany, Volvo Car Corp. terminated a direct-mail campaign sent Oct. 10 to 2,000 Volvo owners. Some complained when they received letters that contained a suspicious-looking powder. It was vitamin powder. It had been part of a message that encouraged owners to have their Volvo dealer keep their cars in peak condition.

    Prompted in part by such incidents, some other automakers are making changes:

  • “We’re not sending anything bulky; we’re not sending any boxes,” said Chuck Kirk, general manager of enterprise customer management for General Motors. “We’re looking at e-mail more favorably now.”

  • Saab Cars U.S.A. Inc., which handles its direct mail independent of parent GM, is adding stickers to its mailings. For example, boxes that recently were mailed to journalists bore a sticker that read, “Saab 2002 press kit enclosed,” said spokesman Steve Janisse. “It’s an additional precaution to alert people they’re receiving something from a company they know.”

  • In some cases, Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc. is switching to postcards instead of letters in envelopes, said spokeswoman Gael O’Brien. “Where we have to use actual direct mailings, we’re adding labeling so it is very clearly from Mitsubishi Motors.”

    Nissan’s scare cure

    Competitors are learning from Nissan’s misfortune.

    Nissan’s advertising agency,

    TBWA/Chiat/Day in Playa del Rey, Calif., in March created a direct-mail component to its “Cure for the common car” campaign for the 2002 Altima. The third part involved mailing the orange cardboard pill bottle replica, about a foot tall and 6 inches wide. It held a brochure, a letter, a CD-ROM and a certificate for a test drive — no pills or powder.

    Nissan two weeks ago spent $250,000 to send first-class letters of apology to the recipients. A special 800 number was printed on the envelope in case people were afraid to open it.

    The division continues to send an Altima brochure to anyone who requests it.

    Nissan Division typically spends about 6.5 percent of its marketing budget on direct marketing, or a planned $34.8 million this year.

    Concerned about costs

    Auto marketers are concerned about other additional costs in the backlash of the anthrax scares.

    “Mailings are timed into telemarketing efforts, so we need to appropriately staff telemarketing banks to expect consumer response,” said John Jastrem, chairman and CEO of Rapp Collins Worldwide in Dallas, which handles direct marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA Inc. and Isuzu America Inc.

    “If we can estimate the timing, cost isn’t an issue.”

    But it’s difficult to predict the timing when mail centers in New York and Washington, for example, remain closed.

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