Direct marketing: Big and beautiful

With an open mind and a little trust, big organisations are starting to challenge for the top direct marketing awards. Holly Acland reports.

Last week direct marketers and their agencies came together at the industry's annual DMA Awards. Harrison Troughton Wunderman carried off six of the 29 gold awards and picked up the Grand Prix for its work for airline network Star Alliance. The winning campaign combined outdoor and ambient work with press advertising to attract high-value members of other airline loyalty clubs to the frequent-flyer schemes of Star's member carriers. In just three months, 15,268 people, worth at least £14m a year, registered with these schemes.

Star Alliance's win was something of an exception, as big brands tend to miss out when it comes to direct awards. The Grand Prix at last year's DMA Awards was won by a much smaller organisation, charity Depaul Trust. Its interactive TV campaign, created by Publicis Dialog, enabled viewers to dictate how the story progressed. But only Kingston Communications' interactive TV service was able to support this technology, meaning only a small number of consumers saw the ad.

Star Alliance's collection of four awards last week may mark a turning point. While few would dispute that the Depaul Trust campaign was groundbreaking, many believe the real creative challenge lies with large, unwieldy accounts that demand high-volume campaigns at a low cost. 'I am tired of highly creative but unfeasibly complex and necessarily low-volume creative scooping industry awards,' says Dan Douglass, managing partner of agency FCBi London. 'Big-brand, high-volume direct mail is where the real battleground for creative standards lies.'

Consumer turn-off

One reason big campaigns have won relatively few awards is that the products or services they promote - loans, credit cards or electricity, for example - lack the consumer appeal that immediately clicks with the judges. 'Inside every awards judge there is a consumer's heart beating,' admits Marc Nohr, DMA Awards committee member and managing partner of agency Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw. 'Judges will always be switched on by brands that are telling an exciting story.'

It is especially hard in the financial services sector, where mailings have to include legal notices and there is the extra hurdle of the Financial Services Authority (FSA). 'The level of intervention is breathtaking,' says Lucian Camp, chairman of cchm:ping, which specialises in financial services marketing. 'Successful direct marketing is all about persuasion, but the FSA believes in fairness and balance. If you say anything, you have to give equal space to saying the opposite, and that doesn't necessarily make for great creative.'

Nohr believes that sometimes it can be almost impossible for big companies to convey an exciting story. 'You have to look for the narrative in every product, but bigger companies can make it difficult to get close to the story,' he says. 'Bureaucratisation means that the brief can be too sanitised and the creative process is more process than creative.'

Producing creatively striking work for a major organisation with formal inter-departmental systems, strict corporate guidelines and long decision chains is clearly harder work than doing so for a smaller, more flexible client.

These challenges can be overcome if there is a creative champion within the organisation. This has been the case for Draft London, which produced an integrated campaign for an advanced call-handling solution from Telewest Business. While the product itself is complex, the creative used the fact that any company can enjoy advanced call-handling with just 150cm of cable. The direct mail pack consisted of a white box that opened to reveal a branded computer mouse - with 150cm of cable attached. 'You need the client to be in love with ideas,' says Arthur Parshotam, Draft's creative director. 'We're very lucky with Telewest because the client believes in the power of ideas.'

Long-term challenge

Another important ingredient in a successful working relationship is time. Big companies will not be pushed down a new route quickly, but rather by degrees. It is an approach that WWAV Rapp Collins, the UK's biggest direct agency, is all too familiar with. 'I see big clients not as creative-free zones, but as great opportunities,' says creative director Ian Haworth. 'It's just that the journey is likely to be slower.'

British Gas has been a WWAV client since 1996, and Haworth believes that, despite operating in a fiercely competitive market, it has been receptive to new ideas. 'We could never have moved British Gas quickly in one go - the organisation would not have stomached it,' he argues. 'But if you look at the chronological development of its work, you see that it has really opened up creatively. It is all about mutual trust and proving effectiveness by using testing properly.'

Long-term relationships can create an environment in which creativity can thrive, even among big, unwieldy corporations. IBM recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with OgilvyOne. Louise Kettle, manager of integrated marketing communications at the technology firm, is an advocate of such partnerships. 'A degree of trust and understanding develops over time, and this means the agency is allowed to come up with off-the-wall ideas,' she says. 'The way IBM works is understood, so it is a safe environment in which to test ideas.'

IBM's willingness to experiment with innovative strategies has helped it buck the trend on the awards circuit. It enjoyed success at the Cannes Lions Direct Awards two years ago for a campaign targeting the IT community, and Harrison Troughton Wunderman picked up a gold award in Cannes this year for its 'Invisible IT expert' campaign promoting IBM's Tivoli Software (see box, page 33).

The Cannes Lions also saw Publicis Dialog pick up two golds for its Hewlett-Packard activity and Lowe Plus win a gold for an Egg campaign. At the DMA Awards, meanwhile, Xerox, Hewlett-Packard and One.Tel made it onto the podium.

While these winning brands are big companies that lack instant consumer appeal, what they share is the willingness to embrace a creative idea. 'I don't think there is any correlation between the size of the client's organisation and the quality of the work done by agencies,' concludes cchm:ping's Camp. 'The only correlation that does matter is the one between the quality of the work and the attitude of the client.'

CASE STUDY - IBM TIVOLI SOFTWARE

IBM's Tivoli Software product is not an easy sell. It is expensive and technically complex, and the IT directors who make up its target audience are bombarded on a regular basis by communications from software companies.

It does not sound like the sort of mailing that would win a creative award, yet this year the 'Invisible IT expert' campaign by Harrison Troughton Wunderman won a gold at the Cannes Lions Direct Awards.

The secret, says former Tivoli marketing manager Andy Barraclough, was the simplicity of the creative. 'Every reasonable-sized organisation will need a product such as this - invisible to the everyday user, but working in the background to handle every aspect of the company's IT. The concept of an invisible IT expert brings to life those product benefits.'

More than 3500 packs were mailed to IT directors in retail and distribution, finance and public services. The mailing combined lighter touches - statements such as 'Does not drink coffee!' - with more serious product information and sector-specific case studies.

The aim was to achieve cut-through on a busy IT director's desk - and it worked. In all, 51 leads were generated, representing a sales value of £1,158,293, compared with a mailing cost of £9871.

DMA GOLD AWARD WINNERS 2004

Category Client Agency

Grand Prix Star Alliance Harrison Troughton

Wunderman

Markets

IT/telecoms Hewlett-Packard Publicis Dialog

Leisure/travel VisitScotland WWAV Rapp Collins Scotland

Retail Lever Faberge OgilvyOne Worldwide

Financial services First Direct Craik Jones

Fundraising World Vision Domain

FMCG Guinness Tullo Marshall Warren

Automotive Lexus Partners Andrews Aldridge

Business-to- P&G Professional Saatchi & Saatchi

business (other)

Business-to- Dept of Health Partners Andrews Aldridge

consumer (other)

Media

Press Royal Marsden Hospital Harrison Troughton

Wunderman

Door-to-door Comfort Fast Dry/Unilever Tullo Marshall Warren

Broadcast British Heart Foundation Euro RSCG London

Email Smart Rapier

Other digital Hewlett-Packard Publicis Dialog

media

Outdoor/ Star Alliance Harrison Troughton

ambient media Wunderman

Multiple media Star Alliance Harrison Troughton

Wunderman

Telemarketing One.Tel EHS Brann/One.Tel

Business direct Xerox Harrison Troughton

mail (high vol.) Wunderman

Business direct Saatchi & Saatchi Saatchi & Saatchi

mail (low vol.)

Consumer direct National Blood Service Kitcatt Nohr Alexander

mail (high vol.) Shaw

Consumer direct First Direct Craik Jones

mail (low vol.)

Field marketing Baltika/Scottish Courage bright

Creativity

Copy Royal Marsden Hospital Harrison Troughton

Wunderman

Art direction NSPCC Saatchi & Saatchi

Creative solutions Hewlett-Packard Publicis Dialog

Strategy

Brand-building Guinness Tullo Marshall Warren

Acquisition Star Alliance Harrison Troughton

Wunderman

Launches NSPCC Saatchi & Saatchi

CRM Army Recruiting Group Tequila\London

Source: DMA

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