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Direct Marketing Disasters — Or, Results That Go Bump In The Night


Here at B Direct, we've just launched our new and improved (and, we admit it, overdue) agency website. Anyone who has ever launched a site will agree ... it was a PROCESS. But, with 15 years and hundreds of projects for dozens of clients under our belts, the process was also a CELEBRATION. We've been privileged to work on some fantastic projects, encouraging our clients to stretch creative boundaries and realize great results.

Of course, there have been a handful of other projects that for some reason or another were less than a total success. 

In truth, some felt positively doomed.

As I sit here on an Amtrak train, nearly four hours delayed and almost certainly missing the dinner meeting I was heading to New York for, as well as the red carpet movie premiere that was to follow, I'm reminded of other everyday disasters. 

Gentle reader, let me share five with you.

Disclaimer, first. Please note, the B Direct team worked together for nearly a decade before launching the agency. These ... um ... "colorful anecdotes" were experienced elsewhere. Really.

Disaster #1

We developed an elaborate (and costly) "Walking Club" for an athletic shoe manufacturer. It included a custom magazine, branded premium items, a progress chart, and a way to connect to other club members. Turns out though that most walkers do so to be on their own, to meditate, de-stress or enjoy nature. No matter how handsome our package was, they didn't want to join a "club."

Lesson: Your great idea may not be so great. Check with your audience first.

Disaster #2

We worked on an oversized, long-form direct mail package for the nation's preeminent business leadership firm. It happened to be a boom "seller's market" when we started —companies couldn't find enough talent. The project was put on hold for many months but eventually mailed. And flopped. While it was sitting in the mailhouse, the economy had tanked. Employers didn't need any help finding good people. And they didn't need our client's services either.

Lesson: If a project is delayed, double check that it's still relevant before you send it out.

Disaster #3

We developed an engaging oversized postcard for a warehouse club, offering free membership during the (big shopping) weekend before Thanksgiving. To save money, the cards were printed (in a galaxy far) far away. Trucking delays caused them to arrive at the lettershop late — and miss Thanksgiving altogether. The stuffing in this particular turkey was that the client had brought in extra associates to handle the anticipated crowds, which, obviously, never showed up.

Lesson: If you think it can't get worse, it can.

Disaster #4

This, sadly, really did involve a disaster. We were working on a high-end, high-touch 3-D package for a high-tech client. The audience was C-suite decision makers, and the solutions we were promoting ran in the high 6- to 7-figures. The client wanted to showcase a beta site in Paris, so the offer — after some qualification, bien sur — included a trip on the Concorde. Right before it mailed (merci, mon dieu), the real Concorde crashed.

Lesson: A thwarted 3-D mail campaign isn't really a disaster. Keep it in perspective.

Disaster #5

The last mishap involved another 3-D package, in this case sent to business owners by a regional bank. The teaser asked the owner "Is this your idea of a power lunch?" Inside was a Twinkie and a personal letter explaining that we understand how busy (and probably malnourished) they are. We'll take them out for a nice lunch if they'll consider bringing us on to help manage their business finances. Alas, Twinkies were recalled (for asbestos) just as we went to press. The replacement cheese and cracker snack pack didn't pack the same punch.

Lesson: Never rely on a "Twinkie Defense." Or a perishable giveaway.

Remember, these disasters were not at B Direct. To date, we've been virtually disaster-free.

This, of course, isn't to say that we could never experience a direct marketing disaster. That would be statistically improbable, as well as a near mythical act of hubris.

I'd rather not tempt fate. Because, as you've now seen, fate can be fickle.

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