ANALYSIS: Piecing together the mess Jigsaw made of Voila’s DM - Why is a joint venture born out of three major FMCG companies unable to come up with a half-decent questionnaire, wonders Drayton Bird

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’?

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

Voila.



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

of it.



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

better.



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

gin.



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

as consumers?



Do you? I see myself as a person. A father. A grandfather. A

writer.



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

on.



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

generous understatement.



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.



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