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Art of Design #38: Pushing the Envelope

Direct response is part art and part science. It’s where creativity can be measured in dollars and cents. The envelope gets opened, or it doesn’t. It’s that simple. So for all of you folks on the front lines of creating packages that must be opened and need to stimulate sales, here are some award winning examples from our friends Down Under!

TITLE: The Naked Letter 

Client: Pacific Blue

Description: The Naked Letter for Pacific Blue has no inner or outer. Everything’s transparent, just like their business. And with a snarky poke at a competitor’s ads, it’s a piece of mail folks couldn’t ignore.


TITLE: National Bank Library Invitation

Client: National Bank Visa

Description: This package invited readers to enjoy a few cocktails with their workmates at The Library – a classy establishment. Inside was everything needed to transform themselves: a date, a time and a pair of glasses.


TITLE: Money Saw

Client: Genesis Energy

Description: The company needed to demo its reward scheme to builders. A unique package was created. What builder could resist a hand-made paper maché saw sent via the mail? The campaign generated a 15% response rate.



Illustrating the idea of “keeping the ball rolling,” this clever envelope provides the recipient with a working maze, complete with a ball.



Made from stainless steel and copper, this metallic envelope takes the simplicity of the envelope form and reinvents it.



CLIENT: National Bank

To demonstrate the Bank’s commitment to cricket, this package contained everything that club administrators would need to encourage registration for the events. It also allowed them to indulge in a quick game themselves. The tubes became wickets, and the box folded out to become a bat. Even the letter could be used as the ball itself.

And now, thanks to our “Time Machine” we take a look back at some direct response letters of the past – more than half a century has gone by since these have seen the light of day.

A reproduction of “20 Winning Letters” distributed by publisher Prentice-Hall, Inc. in 1942.  The top tree won first, second, and third prizes in a Better-Letter Contest initiated by the Business Ideas Service.  The other seventeen won honorable mention.

The resourcefulness and originality contained in these letters exhibit outstanding examples of salesmanship. You can read the full text of each of these motivating missives by clicking on the thumbnail image.

Here’s a  sincere letter expressing thanks for a job well done.
This letter uses a unique personalization technique that flatters the recipient.
This letter features an amusing illustration that ties in with the sales message.
Here’s a letter that used a light touch to produce sales when previous letters failed.
Take note of this letter that is refreshingly unadorned by any “trick” phrases.
From start to finish, this letter draws a clear mental picture.
Clever personalization combined with good copy yielded excellent results.
A striking letterhead, a skillful introduction and a neat, complimentary close.
Featuring original figures hand-drawn in red ink.
This letter accomplishes three goals: thanking old customers, inviting new customers to and promoting the company’s product.
A short-and-snappy sales letter that included a compelling promise:  “Reading Time: 40 seconds.”
This letter was designed to bring chuckles from frustrated customers while promoting goodwill.
Here’s a letter directed to new customers, it contains a message that lets them down gently.
Smart use of an effective illustration combined with smoothly conversational copy.
An interest-provoking letter is offset, highlights certain words to gain attention.
Fold-over map catches the eye and ties in with well-written copy.
At first glance this letter appears to be handwritten, however it is not.
A clipped-on one inch swatch of woolen fabric in the box helped give the reader an interactive experience.
Unique graphic treatment and smoothly written copy make this an effective letter to direct mail prospects.
“Cutting corners” was an effective device that tied in with the message of the letter.

The ideas seen here are, in some cases, too dated for current use. However, they may spark ideas for future mail campaigns. Also, keep in mind that many of the ideas that are applied to direct mail can be transformed into useful tactics for email strategies.

Even though several decades have passed since these letters were penned, human nature is, at its core, very much the same. People have the same basic needs and emotional responses to life events and pressures that influence their decision-making process.

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