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Mailbox Monday

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When it comes to a direct mail campaign, what is the main purpose of an outer envelope?

It's not to build brand (although it's nice if you can do so). It's not to make the recipient smile or laugh (although that's nice too). It's not to present features and benefits. Or make a special offer. Or serve up a testimonial.

Whatever else an outer envelope does, its main purpose is to get opened.

But, there's a fine line between getting opened and misrepresentation.

Here's a package we just received and felt compelled to open. But, after we did so, the whole thing left a bad taste in our mouths.

First of all, let's talk about the time of year. It's late January, which means we're receiving income statement tax documents from our clients and submitting 1099 tax documents to our external resources. So, when we receive an envelope that has borrowed rather heavily from tax paperwork conventions — note the year 2019 in outline and bolded type; note the tab graphic on the left; note the multiple warnings that the contents were "time sensitive" and "important" — we figured we'd better see what was inside.

Inside were two pre-populated forms, one for us to send back and one to keep for our records. (They resembled carbon paper, but after a quick test, we determined that it was only a resemblance.) On top of these forms is an official "2019 Update Notice," which informs us that "As an employer in Marblehead, MA ..." we "must ensure compliance with revised 2019 labor law posting requirements and replace any outdated notices."

Additional copy to the right of the form (they prefilled in two posters, by the way, $15 with an extra $5.95 for shipping and processing) is copy that explains the most recent federal revisions, then halfway down lets us know that the company that sent us the mailing is "a non-government publisher of copyrighted compliance poster compilations ..." (Try saying that one five times fast!) But, that disclaimer is buried in a long block of text and printed on blue. How many people even get to it?

The final insert is a BRE, which (to be fair) also states on the back that they are a non-government compliance firm. But, again, how many people read the back of a BRE?

So, here's what they did right — got us to open the package and look at it.

Here's what they did not-so-right — camouflaged their package as an official government mailing to sell us two posters for twenty bucks.

Had we actually ordered the posters, which are available free from the government BTW, we would be angry.

As it is, we saw through the creative and all they're getting from us is a decided thumbs-down.

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