What can be more calculated to set your pulse racing, as the days
shorten and the weather worsens, than the chance to take part in a
’brand new autumn survey’?
Your ardour might be slightly dampened because the envelope containing
the invitation is blank (envelope messages generally raise response),
but you can feel there is something inside: it’s a new magazine called
What am I talking about? Well, I’m talking about a mailing from the
Jigsaw consortium - a potentially very important initiative. In the
next few hundred words, let’s try to piece together what is to be made
Jigsaw is a joint venture between Unilever, Cadbury-Schweppes and
Kimberly Clark, which are attempting to do what direct marketers have
done for years - to learn about individual customers’ characteristics,
behaviour, likes and dislikes so as to reach and persuade them
Since each firm in Jigsaw is vast and bureaucratic, the thought of
their co-operation summons to mind the meeting of dinosaurs in a sort
of mass orgy: a messy, protracted business governed by muddled
committees and repeated changes of mind.
This piece of creative work - if creative is the word - certainly
suggests such a process. It was passed to me by a recipient who
thought it ’poorly targeted, poorly conceived and poorly executed’.
The question I ask myself is this: do these firms think their
customers like to receive junk through the mail?
The magazine itself reminds me, with nausea, of the tatty teen mags
big publishers produced 25 years ago. When you consider the money
these firms can afford (and probably coughed up) you can only marvel
that it was ever approved - especially when you consider how much
tripe they must collectively talk about brand values.
The chief element in a direct mail pack is the letter. This one has a
similar tone to the magazine. You’ve heard it all before - far too
many times. It reads as though put together by three monkeys with
typewriters, locked in an attic with limitless supplies of pink
Here’s the opening: ’As the Editor of Voila, I want to introduce you
to the new and exciting programme designed to help today’s consumers -
people like you and me - get the most from our busy lives.’
Do ’people like you and me’ ever talk about getting ’the most from our
busy lives’? And how many of these ’programmes’ are not new and
exciting, I wonder? Also, why do these buffoons think we see ourselves
Do you? I see myself as a person. A father. A grandfather. A
An irascible wretch, perhaps. An inadequate lover, certainly. But
never, never a consumer.
This magazine, the copy goes on, is ’packed with fresh ideas to get
the most out of your busy life’. How nice. I haven’t got just one busy
life, but two - in successive paragraphs.
’There are recipe suggestions, health and beauty hints, plus lots of
information about the latest products. There is a variety of great
money saving offers - our way of saying thanks in advance.’ And so
I am sometimes a touch unkind about this sort of thing. So I showed
this confection to a colleague whose opinion I value. He asked: ’Are
they promoting a magazine or trying to get responses? In my view
they’re doing both badly. The offer is badly hidden.’ This was a
The offer should be critical, as it lifts response. Here, it is
vaguely described, lurking near the bottom of the letter: ’You will
receive our next issue of Voila and other money-saving offers for
products that meet your needs**.’
Another beautiful piece of English literature - with the two asterisks
repeated at the base of the letter, beside the weasel words ’magazine
and offers are subject to availability.’ So, no clue as to the offers,
or even if you’ll get them. Brilliant.
The questionnaire, by Consodata, looks like an income tax form, though
without the visual excitement. There are more than 150 questions and
some are plainly ludicrous.
I quote: ’In the run up to Easter, how many bags/tubes of mini
chocolate eggs do you buy?’ Oh, come on.
My colleague was a tad cynical. ’In short, they seem to be doing what
these companies do best,’ he concluded. ’ Throwing lots of money at a
problem, with little effect.’
Jigsaw is strategically intelligent - but, on this evidence, a dog’s
breakfast tactically. This sort of witless tripe perpetuates the junk
image direct marketers are so eager to shake off. How sad that such
reputable firms should reinforce it.