Direct Priorities

Creative not top priority

Peter Whelehan

There's no doubt that clients love seeing really good creative. It not only excites them but pitches are clinched based on how much client emotions have been stirred in the creative element of the pitch. The fact is that the creative isfar from the most important element of any DM campaign. In fact it's not second or, in some cases, even ranked third. Despite this it still receives a disproportionate amount of consideration when decisions are being made about who wins a pitch. The number one priority of any DM activity should be a focus on the targeting and database.

Quality data can generate a response from weak creative. The crucial element of any DM campaign is the targeting strategy, typically the list or the database. Clients need to understand and acknowledge this more when making decisions.

Don't judge a book by its cover
Clients and agencies should not take databases at face value. With acquisition activity clients may like the look of brokered lists, they fail to ask vital questions before buying or renting them. Questions like how was the database compiled, how often has it been used, when was it last used or when is it due to be updated?
If a communication is well targeted then poor or mediocre creative can achieve a good or reasonable response. But brilliant creative will never get a good response if it's targeted at the wrong person. So is the targeting more important than anything else? Absolutely.

Anyone for landscape gardening?
A real life example is a communication I received from a landscape gardening company when I was living on the seventh floor of a city centre apartment block. Not only did I not have a garden but I didn't even have a balcony. So no matter how compelling the creative, or the offer for that matter, there was no chance of me responding. Would the landscape gardening company not have been better targeting the more leafy and upmarket suburbs of south Dublin, rather than city centre apartments? Absolutely.

Relevant offer
An offer should be highly relevant and creative. It should have a strong link to a clear call to action and deadline. The offer's positioning and clarity and how the recipient of a communication is motivated is crucial. An offer should be at the heart of any DM communication. The better the offer, the better the response will be (but obviously there's a trade-off in terms of the cost of the offer to the business).

Targeting Munster fans
I loved the opportunistic Ryanair ‘Losers Refund' campaign. It offered optimistic Munster rugby supporters, who pre-booked flights to this year's final in Edinburgh -before they had even played the semi-final against Leinster – a €100 ‘losers refund' if they cancelled their flight to free up seats for Leinster fans.

Playing Games


Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary offered Munster rugby fans a €100 ‘losers refund' if they cancelled their flights to the Heineken Cup final in Edinburgh to free up tickets for Leinster fans. The offer was made before the Munster-Leinster semi-final was played.

A Ryanair spokesman told the media: “Since many of the Munster fans couldn't bear to watch the Leinster ‘Ladyboys' in Edinburgh we're offering them a chance to cancel their flights and get a refund of up to €100.”

The refund could be claimed via up to 5pm on Friday, May 8th. Was the Ryanair offer creative, relevant, targeted and did it contain a clear call to action and deadline? Absolutely.

Timing versus creative
The third and fourth most important elements in a DM communication are the timing and the creative. Which of the two is the most important depends on the campaign.

Last year I received a communication from a car company a week after I'd just bought a car. The timing couldn't have been worse and there was no chance of a response. In this instance, the timing was much more important than the creative.

Relax in a hammock
Another time I received a catalogue advertising a hammock for sale. Yes, a hammock. It was something that I had considered buying the previous summer but it wasn't exactly on my priority list. The creative in the catalogue captured my imagination and the emotive visuals stimulated me to log on to the web site and order. The purchase wasn't a time sensitive one, so in this case the creative outweighed the timing.

Marketers must appreciate that while pitch decisions are often made primarily based on emotion, perhaps they shouldn't be. Acknowledge this and balance it with a more rational approach to considering DM proposals, with the database and targeting taking priority.

Peter Whelehan ( runs DMCM direct marketing agency. He is a former board member of the Irish Direct Marketing Association (IDMA)

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