Creating direct mail ads that attract attention and drive response is more science than art

Capturing attention and driving response are key design and copy objectives when creating an insert to be featured in a cooperative direct mail coupon medium or a stand-alone “solo” mailer.

Optimizing the following four elements of an ad will maximize its effectiveness in terms of driving response and presenting an image of quality for your organization:

1. Offers

Strong / General: Featuring a strong, general offer in the ad is vital to maximizing results. For an offer to be “strong,” the discount must be significant for the category. A general offer is valid on all of a business’ services or products, including the most popular ones.

Lead Offer on Front Side: Many people only look at the front side, it is important to feature the strongest offer on side one. Limit offers on front side to one or two, with more supporting offers on the back.

Competitive Offers: Are offers competitive and appropriate for the category? Review Google Images for sample ads in your business category to get ideas.

Supporting Offers on Back: Feature a few more supporting offers on side 2. These offers are a great vehicle for the advertiser to push new or featured products. The supporting offers are also a great place to offer incentives for repeat visits.

Offer Details: Offer details, qualifiers, and disclaimers should be clear, specific, and highly visible in each coupon.

Caution! Weak Offers: Without a strong offer, it will be impossible to drive a response for the client. If a client wants to run an offer that is not attractive, it is worth the effort to address the issue and encourage the client to run shtonger offers.

Caution! Promoting Secondary Services: Running a lead offer to push secondary services or products while excluding popular, core items is a formula for depressing response to an ad exponentially. Smart direct mail reps push back when a client tries to use their ad in this way…suggesting that the client promote both the product they want to push and their core product as well.

2. Image or Illustration

Identify Category and Benefit: The image or illustration should clearly identify the business category and the benefit of the product or service being offered.

Bigger Is Better: The dominant photo should be as HUGE as possible. A photo that takes up half to two thirds of the front side of ad is ideal.

Less Is More: One big photo is better than three, four, or five small ones. Keeping the ad clear and uncluttered is essential to the success of the ad.

Keep Photos Simple: Limit type, callouts, and starbursts layered on a photo. Limit the number of subjects in a photo. A diner’s photo of 11 entrees would have 11 subjects. A photo focused on a burger with fries, a Coke, and a table cloth in the background would have 1 subject, the burger in focus.

Stock Photography: For many ads, especially restaurant ads, it is usually a good idea to use stock photos representative of the product offered vs. photos you or your advertising salesperson. Shooting certain items like food involves staging, styling, and photography feats beyond what you or your ad rep can usually accomplish without professional training.

Resolution: Photos and logos must print clearly in order to present a quality image for the client and maximize the performance of their ad. Make sure all photos submitted are high enough resolution (300dpi) to print with clarity at their desired size in the ad.

3. Headline

Clear Trumps Clever: You only have 2-3 seconds to capture a consumer’s attention as they flip through their Money Mailer package. Try to create a headline that effectively will “flag down” anyone in the market for the product or service being promoted, there is no need to be cute, creative, or clever, especially if it diminishes clarity.

Keep It Short / Ideally One Line: 7 words or less is a good rule of thumb. You have less than 3 seconds to capture the attention of yout target audience. Keeping it short also lets you keep the headline BIG & BOLD in the ad layout. A single line headline is ideal in many cases, though 2 line headlines can be good.

Key Words on Right Side: Structure the headline so that key words that identify the business category are on the right side of the top of the page. For example, changing the headline “Auto Care at Affordable Prices” to “Affordably Priced Auto Care” accomplishes this. This is not essential, but a nice way to optimize the headline if possible.

Avoid Puffery: Headlines that involve unattributed claims of greatness would be classified as puffery, avoid them. Anybody can say their burgers are the best in town. So, “Best Burgers in Town” isn’t a particularly believable or powerful headline unless it’s followed by an attribution like “Philly Monthly” or “” Say something real, even if short and lacking in “sizzle”…”Burgers • Fries • Shakes” could be a great headline to attract people who like classic burger joint fare.

4. Identity and Information

Logo / Brand Identity: Make sure the logo file is high enough resolution (or vector) to print clearly at the desired size in the ad. Stick to the colors in the client’s logo and brand identity when creating the rest of the ad. Make sure colors art department uses in the ad are an exact match to the client’s logo. For example, make sure the red in the coupon offer text matches the red in the logo.

Contact Information: The bottom of the page (bottom right) is the place most people look for contact information. While is should be larger than regular body copy, location and contact info does not need to be HUGE to drive response. An easy-to-read 12 to 16 points is fine, especially when contact information is placed where people are used to looking for it. Put all contact informarion together in one “copy block” chunked all together.

Supporting Information on Back: Keep the front side of the ad as simple and clean as possible so that key information “pops” and attracts consumer attention. Once a consumer puts an ad in her “keep” pile for a closer look, she will likely filp it over. That’s why the back side is a great place for additional selling information, testimonials, product photos, staff bios, etc… Placing such information on back makes it available for the interested consumer to “dig deeper” while not cluttering up the front to the point where that interested consumer may not notice the ad at all.