I love to collect direct mail, like a bizarre obsession. Over the years Ive built up a personal collection of the good, bad and very ugly DM pieces worthy of a home in my office drawer. One of my prize pieces is exactly that; a prize letter.

It wasnt sent to me but addressed to the previous occupant of our unit, so naturally I opened it. It was one of those catalogue mail DM pieces with the all too familar unclaimed sweepstake call to action. I remember first seeing these offers 20 years ago and theyre still flooding letterboxes today.

20 years on and I really cant believe that theres an audience out there stupid enough to fall for this offer. While Im guessing the target audience is probably little 80 year old ladies figuring out how to best spend their kids inheritance, surely theyre tuned in to what can only be a misleading scam.

The piece arrived in my mailbox in an envelope marked PRIORITY DEADLINE. I guessed it must be important. But wait, there was also a tracking number printed on the envelope. Now, any untrained eye can spot that this tracking number was anything but unique – it had been printed using the same process as the rest of the envelope. Also, if it really was a priority tracked letter, then why did it land in my mailbox? Shouldnt I have signed for it? As a finishing touch, the envelope included a sender details label, printed in a handwriting font, stating that my prize notification letter is waiting for me inside. If there really was a prize notification inisde, wouldnt this be the last thing to appear on the envelope? Do banks regularly send out PIN numbers and credit cards in envelopes which state their sensitive content?

But if this really is a compelling enough reason for the recipient to open the envelope, then inside theyll discover a two-page letter, which includes an official looking $100K voucher for an unclaimed sweepstake prize The prize amount on the voucher is printed using a cheque-style MICR font and even features a printed red seal just for added authenticity.

One thing that confuses me about the letter (and other DM letters I regulalry receive) is that the typeface is set in Courier. Please can someone tell me why marketers still choose to send out direct mail using Courier? If you can give me a valid answer, then Ill add you to my draw for the $100K sweepstake prize. It appears the United States Postal Service has an answer, in fact, they encourage marketers to use Courier for direct mail on their Web site, which explains:

You might want to consider formatting the entire letter in the Courier font. Its the most commonly used and because it looks like a typewriter made it, it gives the feeling that the letter was written specifically for that consumer.

Now hang on a minute, a typewriter made it? I dont know about the US, but the rest of the world stopped using typewriters soon after computers came along. No one uses a typewriter today, and certainly not for direct marketing. Secondly, are you trying to tell me that a consumer is naive or stupid enough to believe that the letter was personally typed for them on a typewriter?

Courier is hardly a readable typeface either. For a document of any significant length, you really should pick an serif typeface. My eyes get sore just from looking at Couriers ascenders and descenders. But wait, this isnt any typewritten letter, its personalised to the recipient – highly personalised in fact, with the recipents name appearing no less than five times scattered throughout the copy.

My final gripe with this piece is that it includes a prize claim ticket which the recipent can cut out and attach to the enclosed reply form. Ive never understood the logic behind this. Dont you want to make it as easy as possible for the recipent to respond? Why not include the lucky claim ticket on the reply form in the first place? Even if the recipient is deliberately misled into thinking this is a real claim ticket, surely its an added inconvience for them to cut it out and stick it on another piece of paper, right?

While these types of mail pieces are obviously targeting a specific audience and they must be effective to a point (which is why theyre still used today), I think the specific audience (almost exclusively pensioners) is being exploited in getting them to take an action and ultimately a purchasing decision to buy products that they probably dont need or want – all based on a misleading offer. These types of offers surely raise some ethical concerns in todays culture and its this very type of direct marketing that is raising the attention of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) and is causing them to recommend changes to the Privacy Act (see my earlier forum posting).

My final point is that this is a very poor use of personalisation. The sender has fallen into the classic pitfall of using personalisation for the sake of it–just because you can do it, doesnt mean you should. Personalisation is all about relevance. Dont get me wrong, Im a big supporter of using recipient information in direct marketing, but it should be used responsibly to add relevance to the piece. This type of personalisation just adds noise to the copy and de-values personalisation as an effective marketing tool. It adds noise to the mailbox and makes it harder to distinguish between what are relevant direct mail pieces.

Im wondering how much longer this DM will continue to exist. Surely the target audience will completely die off (literally speaking) in the very near future. When they do, hopefully this will also be the grave for this type of direct mail.

RIP. No flowers, please. Donations, if desired, to the Australian Direct Marketing Association.