The 7 Critical Elements of Direct Mail (Part 4)

By Wayne Gurley

Next in our review of the seven most critical variables in direct mail is – artwork.

Simply put, your artwork (or graphics, if you prefer) is the way you choose to display your copy and message.

The main thing to remember when thinking about artwork is that its main purpose is to enhance your copy – not sell. Only your copy can do that.


A common mistake I see in many direct mail packages is what I call “overcreativity.” The graphics are simply too flashy and either dominate or overpower the message.

In classic communication theory, this is called “channel noise” – anything that gets in the way of communicating your message.

Photos or clever graphics splashed all over the outside envelope – perhaps even with teaser copy that doesn’t really “tease,” but instead telegraphs the contents of the package to the potential donors – are a few things that can cause response loss.

And if a reader thinks he or she knows what’s inside your package, then it’s doomed to failing the dreaded “trash can” test.

Inside, photos on the letterhead, overblown logos or designs crowding out the copy, or a long list of your board of directors also can be grave offenders.

Remember this important rule: Don’t do anything to distract the reader from your message – or your results may suffer.


Many direct marketers seem hell-bent on overwhelming their readers with creativity. They want their package to “stand out” in a crowded mailbox. To a large extent, this is a noble pursuit.

But there are other ways to accomplish this goal. Sometimes being subtle is the best way to achieve differentiation. Changing the format of your package slightly – perhaps by using a larger or even smaller package size or envelope color – is another option. Or, switching from a window to a closed face package is another possibility. Using absolutely nothing on the front of your envelope is also very intriguing – you’ve simply got to open it to find out what’s inside!

Canadian direct mail expert Stephen Thomas once quoted Roger Craver on using artists: “It’s best to use a bad artist. But if you must use a good artist, ruin them first.”

Graphic designers use fancy designs to show people how good they are. But they forget their main objective is to get a response – not impress people with their artistic skill.


If you aren’t careful, using flashy graphics can backfire on you.  If your prospect or donor thinks you spent too much money creating your package, he or she may think you’re wasting money and won’t send you a gift to be used in similar fashion.

So be careful of the image you project. If you’re a health care institution, your package must match the level of quality care you are selling. But if you go overboard, people may say, “So that’s why they charge me $100 for an aspirin!”

On the other hand, if you’re creating a package for Mercedes-Benz, don’t look cheap. Pull out all the stops.


Copyright 2018 Allegiant Direct, Inc.

Wayne GurleyComment