Direct Mail Horror Story

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By James E. Sullivan, Project Manager, Optic Nerve Direct Marketing
I love my direct mail; I look forward to reviewing every piece of the mail in my mail box. The best part of direct mail marketing is not how creative the package is, nor how good and responsive the list is, nor how strong the offer or how compelling the story about the kit is to me. What is really exciting about direct mail marketing are the disaster stories about the pieces of mail you never see in your mailbox. Move closer, this could happen to you at any time. Some of the best direct mail pieces you will never see. Here is just one more mailing kit you won’t see in your mailbox.
There are a lot of disaster stories out there, some are just plain sad, and some, didn’t even make the mailstream. One such sad story began with the creatives and the clients decided that they wanted to have a singing microchip sing a popular song about their product. The song selected was very current, easy to remember as well as short and sassy. The chip was inserted into a finely designed box with a small product sample and wrapped securely with a pleasing to the eyes box wrapper. The 50,000 pieces were all hand inserted, properly sorted and matched up with a personalized letter, wrapped, and again personalized, stamped and ready to mail. Leaving the mailing house with all of those perfectly wrapped packages, the truck driver entered the local USPS loading dock. Unfortunately the truck driver was having trouble entering the bay perfectly, in frustration, he jammed the truck into reverse gear and slammed into the rear of the loading dock with a resounding thud….what happened next was heartbreaking melody. Most, if not all of the micro chips accidentally got activated by the sudden jarring of the truck, singing all of the words of the pre-programmed song in their entire 50,000 pieces chorus. The orchestra did not stop, all of them kept repeating their songs, all at different times and in different segments of that popular song, over and over again. The back door of the truck was not even allowed to open, the Postmaster at the dock would not allow the truck to discharge its cargo until the singing stopped completely.
Undaunted, the truck driver informed the Postmaster that after a few minutes of settling down to normal and balanced levels, the singing would all stop and a silent truck would prevail. The bellowing of the 50,000 voices was not to be silenced, even after a brief waiting time. Alas, silence was not going to happen. The Postmaster kindly asked the truck driver to take his melodic shipment back to the mailing house. As you can imagine, neither the production manager, nor the creative director, or even worse, the client, were amused. The microchips continued singing their hapless song for about two days, before their chip life died. With that, the mailing died as well.
All 50,000 pieces were dead, none could be saved, the entire mailing piece was lost, hundreds of thousand of dollars wasted on singing chips. What did we all learn from this… maybe having your mail talk back to you is not a good idea.

—Source: James E. Sullivan is the Project Manager of the direct mail consultancy agency Optic Nerve Direct Marketing ( He’s also a Favorite Author for Melissa Data’s Direct Marketing Advisor.