Designing On-Point Direct Mail Part 2: Writing Great Copy

Contrary to popular belief, yelling doesn't work.

There are a lot of different copywriting mistakes that can be made when putting together a direct mail campaign. Everything from typos to going off-message can weaken a print ad, but the majority of mistakes can be grouped together under the heading, “yelling at people.”

As we all know from life, someone doesn't actually have to be in our faces, screaming, to make us feel like we're being yelled at (or talked at, or talked down to, or threatened, or even unduly questioned). There are a million different ways to make someone feel uncomfortable in a dialogue, and most of those can be found in writing copy for direct mail, too.

Here are some of the major things that can make people feel uncomfortably like they're being yelled at in a print ad received in the mail:

  • A font size that is too large within the context of the rest of the ad.
  • Too much capitalization, particularly when combined with bolding.
  • Using the word 'you,' as in 'you know you want it.'
  • Too many questions, as in 'Tired? Sick? Unhappy?' Depressed? I am now!
  • Posing an ultimatum. If I don't like it when my parents do it, I'm sure not gonna take if from an ad.
  • The 'we know you better than you know yourself' angle. Even if a brand does know me better than I know myself, no one likes to be perceived as transparent.

The funny thing is that all these 'strategies' are used in print ads every day. But have a look at each one. They aren't effective ways of dealing with people in everyday life. Why should they be effective ways of generating a great ROI on a direct mail campaign?

On the other hand, consider the qualities we enjoy the most in others: generosity, openness, friendliness, humor – these are the qualities to bring out through copywriting. If they're not shining through, maybe you need a new copywriter.

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