Sunday, January 24, 2010

What Do You Mean: "Ugly" Marketing Cuts Through the Clutter Best?

During my life and my career I have seen a lot (some would say too much) direct mail. I have actually flooded many mailboxes with quite a bit of paper while I worked at American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), National Geographic and AARP.

One phenomenon that always amazed me is the degree to which 2-color, relatively plain, targeted direct mail pieces perform better than comparable 4-color, fancy direct mail pieces with the same audience. Kevin has also attested through his fundraising work, membership work at Marketing General, and through attending many DMA conferences, that this is true across the association and philanthropic worlds. Yet, any marketer knows that more than half the battle in direct mail is getting your piece noticed and opened--so how can a bright, colorful package with lots of eye candy not accomplish that?

The reasons why 2-color performs better will vary across associations, but the reasons include:

1. 2-color is marginally less expensive to produce than 4-color, so the total responses and revenue generated mean higher return on investment, with the same response rates with 2- and 4-color.

2. Our prospective consumers are more knowledgeable than we may think; they know that companies are using colorful pieces to get their attention ... and their hard earned dollars.

3. A large part of why recipients respond to your direct mail is because they know at least a little about you, what you do and provide. These prospects know that money is required to perform your mission, and they may believe that 4-color, fancy packages are much more expensive. If they believe this, they can easily assume that you are spending too much money on your marketing at the expense of your core mission.

Of course, it is important to test 2-color versus 4-color, but I wanted to point out that what many of your peers or even you might describe as “ugly” packages work just as well if not better than 4-color packages. In your next campaign, try something that is 2-color in your next package, and let us know how it works for you!



  1. Another good way to give your response rates a boost is to use personal urls. An example of a Personal URL would be: and when "Jim" visits his personal url, the website will usually be customized to him. It also allows the marketer to track who is responding. Learn more at:

  2. I think your reason #3 (fancy 4-color appeals appear expensive) is absolutely correct when it comes to getting membership renewals for charitable organizations or contributions to non-profits who say they desperately need donations. It is hard to believe that they are truly in need or will spend the money wisely when the direct mail package arrives in 4-color.