‘THE PRIVATE LIFE OF MAIL’ (IMAGINE IT VOICED IN A WHISPER BY DAVID ATTENBOROUGH CROUCHED IN A BUSH IF YOU WILL, BUT READ IT ANYWAY)
Naturally I must first declare an interest (Jonathan Harman is an old friend of mine and I work on a regular basis with his charming MarketReach team) BUT I’d like to think that I would be urging you to beg, borrow or otherwise acquire a copy of this new publication even if I didn’t. You can download it here: www.mailmen.co.uk.
I will leave it to the client services people and the planners (bless their beautifully polished pointy heads) to discuss the technical implications of its neuro-scientific byways and the 800 hours of video from its ethnographic autostrada, BUT if you’re looking for a prejudiced, intermittently coherent, self-interested response featuring preternaturally long sentences and recondite vocabulary all served up with a light glaze of affectation, and the occasional use of shouty capitals, then I AM YOUR MAN.
Quite simply, ‘The Private Life Of Mail’ is a love-letter to the medium of direct mail penned by poets & scientists and sprinkled with encomia from such luminaries as Karen Blackett (CEO at Mediacom), David Robinson (sales & marketing director at The Sun) and even the fragrant Elspeth Lynn (ECD at M&C Saatchi).
Let’s not concern ourselves overmuch about the above luminaries’ ‘expert status’ when it comes to mail (we should just be delighted with their support, after all), let’s just PLUNGE into a world of numbers that will leave you reeling with joy and excitement if you are a practitioner and tearing your hair out with envy and spite if you are not.
Let’s start with one of its more startling findings: “57% claim that receiving mail makes them feel valued.”
I think that this speaks to our monstrous frustration with the welter of electronic spam that bombards us: PMI phonecalls, insane email in-box tsunamis, PMI phonecalls, facebook ads for incontinence pads or, indeed, sheds (check my profile), promoted tweets, PMI phonecalls, sodding SMS and PMI phonecalls.
In comparison, the humble envelope on our doormat leaves us all-but tearful with gratitude.
So much so that it seems we have a complex series of ‘shrines’ set up to this valuable and unassuming medium in our own homes. The ethnographic studies that form a significant proportion of this invaluable publication include fascinating details of this new anthropological phenomenon. Though it would take an Emil Durkheim or a Claude Levi-Strauss to explore these rituals and ceremonies with due diligence, it seems that we have created three areas for the veneration of mail. Areas that remind me of the antechambers of the afterlife from the Egyptian Book Of The Dead:
1. A holding area: where mail is kept before being ‘dealt with’.
2. A pile: where mail is kept after being sorted, awaiting action.
3. A display area: where useful or important items are stored
Now initially I scoffed at this, but then I observed the behaviour of the elegant and mysterious Mrs Spooner who, after the initial violent purge of badly targeted nonsense, followed just such a process: viz 1. The shiny CD cupboard-thing by the front door, 2. The kitchen counter where all of the mobile phones, i-Pads and laptops lurk in a jungle of tangled charger-wires and 3. The ledge under the blackboard-thing which tells the Spooners where they are supposed to be this week. I was staggered and may have been stampeded into credence of the whole document by the neatness with which my own household adhered to the principles outlined here.
There are other jewels, but as a lifetime fan of the medium and a confirmed ‘email-denier’ let me just point you to the section entitled ‘Mail In The Head’ which contains the following statistics about how mail makes people feel (the percentages represent those in the sample who responded positively to the questions ‘does mail make you feel…’)
Better informed 66% Better understood 48% Tempted 48% Happy 45% Reassured 43% Intrigued 41% Pleasantly surprised 40% (Forty percent!!!) Valued by the sender 39%
This is stirring stuff and worth the effort of getting hold of the document in and of itself. Furthermore, having read the whole piece with its observations of actual neural activity, it is hard to argue with the conclusion here, which is:
“By all measures, mail has a profound effect on the human brain. It is effective regardless of demographic indicators and stated attitudes.”
In other words, even if people claim to be unmoved by it, they are.
I save my favourite sub-section until last, containing as it does, data that I will no doubt be repeating like some gaudy, slightly dishevelled, elderly yet bright-eyed parrot in client meetings for months to come.
It comes in the chapter called ‘Mail In The Wallet” and refers to the propensity of recipients to act in response to campaigns that include direct mail and email – as opposed to those consisting of email alone:
13% more consumers visited the website, 21% more consumers made purchases and 35% redeemed vouchers or coupons. Now this may not seem to be on a par with some of the more headline-worthy findings, but just have a think about the next conversation that you have with a client who is praising the cost-efficiency of email (an admirable medium in its own right) and then think about the innumerable electronic interruptions that I mentioned earlier and see if you can’t construct an excellent argument for the use of a low-cost, highly tactile, neuro-transmitter-stimulating, creative medium such as mail.
“The Private Life Of Mail’, 73 closely printed pages packed with handsome diagrams, illuminating charts and everything else you need to make the case for a channel that you already love, it’s 420 grammes (net postal weight, I checked) of crunchy goodness.
Claim your copy post-haste.
Jonathan Spooner is executive creative director of Tangible
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