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Mailbox Monday

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We have created (hundreds? thousands? countless!) self-mailers for clients ranging from The Boston Globe to IBM to Healthy Pet veterinary clinics. We love self-mailers — they're like postcards on steroids. They can be high impact. They can be highly informative. They can be creatively personalized. They can buy our clients "real estate" in their audience's homes or offices.

The point is ... we have nothing against self-mailers.

We also respect direct mail packages that work hard. Offer? Check. Call to action? Check. Testimonial quote? Check. No matter what format we're designing, we try to accommodate different browsing styles, taking into account where the recipient might — or might not — look first, second, third, or last.

The point is ... we have nothing against including lots of promotional information.

BUT (you knew there was a "but" coming, didn't you?), sometimes a self-mailer isn't the right vehicle for the message, the audience, or the sender. And, sometimes including too much content, without guiding the recipient through it, causes "analysis paralysis." Or, worse, just makes a big mess.

Alas, a recent self-mailer from Neighborhood Health Plan seems to have fallen into both of the above traps.

The self-mailer is promoting a new program called, DoctorSmart Rewards. From what we could understand, the program encourages health plan members to shop around for the best price on medical care, then get a cash reward for doing so. Not necessarily a bad idea (who wouldn't want a cash reward?). But, not a particularly easy to understand idea either. Let's start there.

Health care, and procedures like ultrasounds, mammograms, MRIs, CT Scans, or knee, shoulder or hip surgery (all of which are mentioned in the piece) are extemely personal subjects. No one wakes up and says, "It looks like a nice day to have a CT Scan." CT Scans are usually prescribed because a physician is concerned that there is something wrong. Sometimes something very wrong. If a business wants to talk to you about them, you'd probably prefer a personal letter or a more serious, respectful brochure.

The idea of shopping around for any of these procedures, on behalf of your insurance company as well as your own behalf, is new. It needs more narrative. Something about how health care costs can vary greatly. Or how if you save money for the insurance company, they'll pass it on to you. Again, a letter or traditional brochure would be a better choice. What about a letter that drives you to an online video where a doctor explains the program?

And, besides the fact that the medium doesn't really fit the message, there is simply way too much going on.

The four panel self-mailer includes:

• A "Welcome" message
• Cartoon figures, one of whom "just earned $150 on my MRI!"
• A teaser that there's an "Information Card Inside"
• A call-to-action: "Shop today and start saving ..."
• A toll-free number and URL
• Neighborhood Health Plan's logo
• Two more calls-to-action — to "Activate your acount!" and to "Sign up for email"
• A proposition
• A photo of a customer service rep
• A description of "PAT" (Professional Assistant Team")
• An offer code
• A slogan "Where you go for care matter$"
• The back of an information card (with bulleted copy and a toll-free number) and faux perf marks
• A return address
• The recipient's address, bar code and tracking number
• An indicia

And all that, folks, is just on the outside of the self-mailer!

The inside doesn't get much better, with numbered steps, icons and bulleted points, a couple of paragraphs of copy, more calls-to-action, and the front side of the information card. Where are we supposed to look first? It's hard to know.

Sorry, but the Bs give this ambitious self-mailer a thumbs down. It's simply trying too hard without taking the time (or using the right format) to explain itself.

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