To mark this month's National Direct Marketing Show in Birmingham, Marketing set a challenge for a cross-section of DM agencies. They were invited to develop a campaign for a fictitious credit card called Rainforest, from an organisation that prided itself on its green credentials.
The brief required them to design the card, as well as the creative elements of the campaign. In other respects, the brief was very loose - no budget was specified, and the agencies were free to use any media.
The submissions will be displayed at the exhibition, September 17-19, where visitors will have to chance to select the campaign they like best.
According to Proximity art director Sarah Morris, there's no shortage of companies trying to reassure the public how green they are. To have any impact, and cut through consumer cynicism, the new rainforest credit card will have to prove that it means what it says.
The campaign, as envisaged by Morris and copywriter Reuben Turner, starts with a brown envelope, distributed as an insert in newspapers and magazines, and as a door drop. Recipients are invited to use it to send rainforest any unwanted credit card mailings they receive: 'We promise we will recycle them into something more worthwhile.'
What this provides is the names and addresses of people who are concerned about the environment, and at the same time sufficiently credit worthy to receive lots of credit card mailings.
In fact, the plan is to print over the top of these mailshots, crossing out the content and inserting in any white space details of the Rainforest offer, including the promise to pay a percentage of income to one or all of four major environmental charities. Thus recycled, they go back to the people who had returned them in the first place.
Given the number of credit card brands in the marketplace, a plan to print over other companies' mailshots sounds very complicated. However, Morris says the strategy would be to focus on the mailings of the big four banks, which go out in batches of 500,000 at a time.
To build a customer base, it would be necessary to mail cold lists. The outer pack for this second phase - it comes with a pen, and bears the slogan 'Save trees. Pay by rainforest' - uses no staples or glue. The whole thing, including the pen, is designed to be returned for recycling, whether or not the recipient signs up for the card.
The covering letter will boast that it has been created without the loss of a single tree, because it will be printed on paper made from mailshots collected in phase one. Rainforest cards themselves will be available in reclaimed wood, metal from old cars, or plastic from the pens used earlier in the campaign.
PLANT THE MAILSHOT
Tequila/Manchester sent a team, if not quite as far as the Amazon, at least to the Earth Centre in South Yorkshire to research the issue of sustainable development. They then retreated into two 'Mindpools' - Tequila's particular spin on brainstorming sessions - to develop concepts.
Central to the agency's favoured approach is a logo developed by creative director Richard Sharp. It uses tall, thin lettering in different heights to represent the rainforest landscape - an idea reinforced in the full-colour version, which is in several shades of green.
Also picking up on the shape of the trees is the long, thin mail pack, which carries the external message 'Life support inside'. According to the agency's submission: "We looked for a format that would create standout on the doormat. However, it was important to us that the format also had a conceptual reason behind it ."
The agency strove to keep the number of pieces to a minimum. For example, the 'envelope' is a single sheet of paper, which unfolds to reveal the sales message printed on the inside. Tipped on to this is a postage-paid application form, which also spells out the usual terms and conditions.
Would-be cardholders can also apply by telephone or the internet.
The pack is printed on recycled paper, embedded with native wild flower seeds, which means that it can be planted after use.
"You can buy this paper from people like Friends of the Earth, says managing director Matthew Bell.
"It's quite a sweet idea, but if this had been a real pitch for a commercial client, we would probably have provided alternative routes, such as this paper versus a tipped-on packet of seeds. It's good to have a range of solutions, which can then be tested."
The agency felt that rainforest should have a transparent and honest approach, and recommended a fixed APR of 12%. The lure to the consumer is the offer of an immediate gift of £20 to save rainforest land on behalf of every successful application, with a further £5 if the card is still being used after one year.
In addition, there's a cashback offer of 2% on all purchases at the end of the year - 1% to the cardholder and 1% to rainforest protection.
Card designs are based on the unique colours and textures of the rainforest.
The card is designed to be king and is referred to throughout as a 'donor credit card'.
SUBVERT THE COMPETITION
In the year 2000, 400 million unsolicited credit card mailshots were distributed in the UK. That works out at 16-17 per household, of which the vast majority were "unwanted, unused, and therefore a nuisance", notes London agency DP&A. Yet it still believes the time could be right to launch a new 'green' card.
Research shows that people interested in the environment tend to be relatively affluent and credit worthy. But they're not interest-rate chasers, and they don't necessarily want something back for themselves. It's not a bad niche market to go for.
DP&A's design for the rainforest card incorporates a big, green, heart-shaped leaf. And the agency's approach to marketing it is deliberately subversive.
It takes the language and practices of the credit card sector, and manipulates them for its own purposes. For example, this will be a not-for-profit operation: APR stands for 'all profits recycled'.
All purchases using Rainforest will earn points, with double points for buying organic products or acknowledged green brands such as Ecover, or supporting green retailers such as Body Shop.
Points can be redeemed via an online catalogue. They can be used to buy green products, to save toward solar heating or other environmentally friendly technology, to donate to green charities, or to pay for the recycling of old bangers, fridges, computers and so on.
In fact, Rainforest will be as paperless as possible. Registration and communications will be via the web.
E-mail, web advertising, radio and interactive TV will be used to promote the card. DP&A also hopes to piggyback on other people's paper, advertising Rainforest on the backs of till receipts or the packaging of partner brands.
There's no way round the legal requirement to have the signed credit agreement on paper, but it will be delivered to the consumer with a free packet of tree seeds.
Rainforest customers will be encouraged to recycle everything they can - including rival plastic cards. US 'reverse vending machine' technology, which would allocate points for recycling, might also be harnessed.
"There are lots of fun ideas that would have great PR potential, says DP&A managing director Dan Douglass.
"We see Rainforest as a premium product, not as a market leader in terms of interest rates. Knowing that all the profits are ploughed back, people interested in saving the planet would almost self-select."
CUT THE COUPON, NOT THE TREES
Liquid is a young agency with an unusual structure. Staffed by experienced direct marketers drawn from both agencies and client businesses, it focuses on strategy development and account handling. Creative work is farmed out to the most appropriate freelances or hotshops - in this case, Purple.
First step for Liquid was to tighten up the creative brief by developing a brand positioning statement: "To committed environmental enthusiasts, rainforest is a credit card that allows you to make tangible contributions to environmental issues, because spending money on your card actively supports the effort to protect the rainforests".
Several initial treatments were whittled down to just two. One, which attempted to put a human face on the problem, was judged too flippant. Instead, Liquid opted for a more serious approach, built around the image of a huge, isolated rainforest tree. Used full length in the mailshot leaflet, it conveys a sense of scale.
Like other agencies participating in the challenge that chose to go the direct mail route, Liquid wanted doormat standout. It achieves this with a window envelope, the front of which is completely covered with a photograph of the rainforest. It carries the slogan: 'Just what the world needs, another credit card company.'
The leaflet also kicks off with a neat headline. 'Want to help the environment? Use plastic.' Alternate paragraphs spell out the card's product benefits (no annual fee, 12.6% APR, 60 days interest free) with statistics about the rainforest. Such as the fact that a fifth of the world's fresh water is in the Amazon Basin, and that 1.5 acres of Amazon rainforest are disappearing every second.
There's a final twist at the foot of the leaflet. An arrow points to the coupon, with the message 'So cut here'. A second points to the base of the tree, 'Not here'.
In Liquid's version, the proposition is that every £100 spent saves a square metre of actual rainforest (or a tree - it's expressed differently in different places). Cardholders qualify for a premium card when they've saved 100 trees.
Postcards have also been developed for a viral mailing campaign. Says Liquid director Katie Skea: "We believe that our target audience of committed environment enthusiasts will have similarly-minded friends and colleagues."
DO IT ALL ON THE INTERNET
WWAV Rapp Collins West
Like DP&A, WWAV Rapp Collins West, the Bristol agency, chose to be paper free as far as possible with its launch plans for Rainforest. But this was not before exploring more conventional routes. The conclusion, after delving into the credentials of a lot of so-called green materials, including biodegradable plastic, was that many of them cause their own environmental problems.
The solution, therefore, is to launch the card via viral e-mail and public relations, with application forms downloadable from the card's web site.
Statements will be viewable online. The only paper mailing needed will be the fulfilment pack, which will be produced by ISO-compliant suppliers using recycled paper.
Curiously, the agency has chosen to use the Rainforest branding in its e-mail launch programme, and on the web site, but not on the card itself, which instead features a forest reflected in raindrops.
There are two reasons for this. The first, as the agency's submission points out, is that "spelling out the name in pictures rather than words allows prospects the satisfaction of making the connection for themselves".
The second is that the agency favours giving cardholders the freedom to support local environmental charities, and not to restrict them, even by implication, to the issue of the tropical rainforests.
But there is also a hint that perhaps WWAV didn't like the branding, which was laid down for all participants. "Hated it, but we kept it," admits business development director Sarah Hawkes. "Though there is one good thing about it. If someone was to say 'I have a Rainforest card', you'd know that person's mindset immediately. WWAV has done its research and believes there is a growing awareness across a broad age band of the strain on global resources. This creates an opening for a card that supports environmental causes.
As the agency says: "Many people would happily be greener, as long as it doesn't make life harder for them. If the Rainforest card is to be taken out by more than the committed fringe, it needs to have more going for it than environmental friendliness."
In WWAV's terms, this means competitive financial benefits and all the convenience of an ordinary credit card, plus some payback for the environment. The offer is to donate £15 to the customer's choice of green charity on taking out the card, plus 25p for every £100 spent. All this is summed up in the card's slogan: 'Virtue ... Rewarded'.
NATIONAL DIRECT MARKETING SHOW
Visitors at this month's National Direct Marketing Show will have a chance to inspect the five concepts developed for this challenge, and select a winner. The entries will be displayed at the show, which is at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, from September 17 to 19.
Developed in an exclusive partnership between Reed Exhibitions and the Direct Marketing Association, the show covers the full range of direct marketing support, from mailing houses and data solutions to e-mail services.
Education is a major theme of the event. In addition to meeting leading suppliers, visitors will be able to attend free seminars staged in the Royal Mail Marketing Seminar Hub, receive free, impartial advice from industry experts in the Marketing Advice Clinic, and view the DMA Awards Gallery.
Marketing professionals from all sectors, plus senior management from small- to medium-sized businesses, are the target audience. Entry is free, and visitors may also explore the National Incentive Show and the National Venue Show, which run alongside. In all, more than 600 exhibitors will be participating.
For more information, visit the web site: www.ndmshow.co.uk.