The b direct logo Hive

Mailbox Monday


As direct marketers, we know that mystery and suspense can engage recipients and increase open rates. But, we stopped using faux FedEx paks and "official notices" years ago. (Remember 2001 and the anthrax attacks? Stealth marketing was never quite the same after that.) In general, coming right out and saying who you are and what you're selling makes sense.

It certainly doesn't make sense to present yourself — either directly or indirectly — as a government agency. Or to ask for a sale by implying that the recipient will be in trouble if they don't buy.

In today's mailbox, we received a piece that, at first (and probably second, third and fourth) glance appeared to be official. The piece was a self-mailer, along the lines of a 1099 or other tax document. Graphically, it was very simple, black type on white, but with a handful of elements that reinforced the idea that it was coming directly from a "power that be." For example, there was an outline of the state of Massachusetts. And a coupe of teasers: "MASSACHUSETTS BUSINESSES, INSIDE: 16 FEDERAL AND MASSACHUSETTS REGULATIONS AFFECTING YOUR EMPLOYEES." Our "IMMEDIATE RESPONSE" was "REQUESTED." And, the coup de grace was a small mark that read, "Compliance Update 2018" with the year typeset exactly like a tax return. And finally, maintaining the charade that this was sent by a state or federal agency, the piece opened by breaking perfs and pulling off tabs on either side of the address area.

Inside, there was an "ALERT," which was actually an order form. Warning us that "You Must Post Revised Massachusetts & Federal Labor Law Notices," it listed the "2018 SS1" notices that would be included on our $5.95 posters (with optional $10 lamination). There was room for credit card information, as well as phone, fax and web contact info.

The back of the order form, the "UPDATE NOTICE," listed recent federal labor law revisions including "seven major updates." It wasn't until the third paragraph that we learned "Our firm is a non-government publisher ..." and then read promotional copy about some benefits of working with them.

The package also included a BRE and one extra printed flap, which finally (and in ghosted back type) admitted that "Individual posters are available for free from the government."

As our friend the Prince of Denmark would say, "Ay, there's the rub."

This efficient and arguably engaging piece of direct response mail was trying to sell us something that we could get free from the government. And, to do so, they camouflaged their marketing piece as a government notice. And, the thing is, as seasoned direct marketers we would bet that this deceptive little campaign was a success. Technically, they didn't say  they were a government agency (in fact, they admitted they weren't). It's absolutely kosher to use the outline of a state, in fact we've done so for some of our local clients, although we didn't imply those organizations were something that they weren't. 

But just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. Out of curiosity, we visited the organization's website and found that it was a perfectly respectable business with viable products and satisfied customers.

We, however, will not be joining them.

Consensus from the Bs? Thumbs down.

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