The mailings were designed in the style of a newspaper front page and referred to the recipient in the headline text and the article.
Two versions were sent. The front page of one of the brochures was headed “Mrs X helps save the planet!” Text below stated “Catalogue shopper, Mrs X of [address] understands that buying from home is comfortable and convenient and can offer big savings on high street prices. What is less well known however, is that by shopping direct by telephone, internet or post, she’s also reducing her carbon footprint and that’s good for Planet Earth …”
Meanwhile the second brochure stated “X has a gift for giving! Voted Kent’s best and most original giver of gifts, Mr X of [address] has the magic touch. His friends and neighbours agree they are always astonished at the quality and originality of the gifts he finds…”
But the campaign sparked 12 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. Two complainants objected that the appearance of their name and address on the front cover of the brochure had caused undue distress. Eleven complainants believed they had been unfairly portrayed, because none of the statements featured on the cover had been made by them. And one complainant found the use of their personal details in an unauthorised way offensive.
Even though the ASA rejected all the complaints, as it believed the mailings did not breach any regulations, the issue will raise concerns that personalisation can go too far.
Back in 2002, Health Laboratories of North America (HLNA) sparked a furore with a mailing for diet pills that included a handwritten message stating, “[recipient’s initial], try it. It works!”. It has the dubious honour of being the most complained about mailing ever, with 150 women contacting the ASA after being convinced a friend who thought they needed to lose weight had contacted them. The same approach was taken by Briefings Publishing Group, which attached a self-adhesive note with a handwritten statement, “W. Try this, it’s really good!” to an ad for a magazine.
Both of these campaigns were banned. At the time, the ASA said: “‘Spoof’ official mailings, or mailings which look like personal correspondence, may grab attention, but advertisers need to ensure they don’t mislead recipients. There is no doubt this approach not only misled members of the public, but also caused a significant amount of distress, as many recipients thought the mailing had been sent to them deliberately.”
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