Door drops are losing their effectiveness, right?

by Steve Thompson on 20/02/2013

I think it’s fair to say that my mother-in-law and I never really saw eye to eye.

She hated jokes at people’s expense (especially her own) and often made an easy target for a wind-up.

One Christmas, I purchased a hairdryer for her that was designed to look exactly like a giant revolver. I just couldn’t resist the thought of her pointing a big gun at her head and chalking up another point on my scoreboard.

After opening it however she thanked me, pointed it towards her head and commented “Every time I use this I will think of you” – game set and match to her.

But behind her high scores there was always an underlying problem. Her own family would concede that she was a bit dippy and few believed her actions were intentionally smart and incisive, but rather that her random outpourings were superbly effective merely as a result of sheer dumb luck.

I find myself in a similar state of bewilderment over some door drop items.

In the unlikely event that you’ve had the misfortune of attending one of my presentations you may have heard me refer to the “LBJ” – The Little Brown Jobbie.

The plain and often brown envelope that offers no hint whether opening it will change your life, or merely waste another valuable minute of it as you hurtle toward your grave faster than Usain Bolt running for the bathroom.

Are these things the result of some very clever research proving that the people who will bother to open it are exactly the target demographic for a particular brand of insurance / energy supply / hearing aid?

I strongly suspect not.

Mind boggling numbers of these things have been soiling our doormats for years and boring the living bejesus out of me.

Because my job is to measure leaflet delivery and recall (and other variables), I have no choice but to open them. If you are fortunate and not compelled to open them, then I congratulate you. And envy you; deeply. For when you read them they do actually change your life, but not in a good way.

There is evidence going back some years (see figure 1 of Stepcheck data in Slideshare presentation – right) that the proportion of householders who recall a leaflet that has been delivered to their home has been slowly declining.

That must mean that door to door is losing its effectiveness, right?

Well certainly a few advertisers have bailed at this first sign of “trouble”. But apparently (and ironically) not the chaps responsible for the LBJs.

To understand the effectiveness of door to door distribution, one should look beyond year on year recall figures.

A more important variable, delivery (the proportion of the target that actually receive the item) has been higher in recent years than it has ever been (see figure 2 of Stepcheck data).

That means that a door to door campaign has the “potential” to be more effective than ever.

The major distribution companies have continually honed and improved their products. Recent developments in sub-sector targeting and delivery have pushed that potential further than ever.

SMART-Drop is an example of the innovation and drive for improvement within the industry.

The industry is clearly “doing its bit”. However there is one important variable about which the distribution companies can do very little – readership.

The responsibility for converting opportunities to read the leaflet into actual readership lies largely with the client and agency. It’s their job to tap this potential and seizing that opportunity is now more important than ever.

The overall proportion of those taking time to read the leaflet has gone down.

But among those that recall the leaflet the proportion who read it has actually remained pretty constant (figure 3 of Stepcheck data).

What’s happening is that the public are getting a tad more choosy when exposed to advertising messages.

Less and less people are slavishly paying attention to every marketing message that comes their way but rather exhibiting a “surprising” level of “sophistication” clearly beyond the ken of some advertisers. It’s pretty basic really.

Some organisations should clearly spend a little bit more time thinking about their intended audience.

If the LBJs are exploiting attrition in an attempt to hit some elusive low penetration target, why are they distributing to whole postcode sectors?

It is more efficient and less wasteful and so much more elegant to hit the target accurately with the minimum of innocent casualties. (See SMART-Drop et al).

It can actually be cheaper to do it that way, in terms of cost per reader.

There isn’t a single argument that can support full sector deployment in this instance.

If, on the other hand, the LBJs really are targeted at a mass market then why the hell is the message securely hidden within a hateful plain brown envelope whose only gambit is to trick poor unfortunates into reading the contents?

People don’t like timewasters, or being tricked.

In a way, however, you can see why a shoddy creative execution of a dubious proposition would need to employ subterfuge. If an item is not obviously appealing or relevant to an individual, they are less likely to read it now than ever before.

They’re fed up with timewasters.

This is where some of the frightfully old fashioned bread and butter of marketing – targeting, creative execution, impact, branding and copy kick in.

This is supposed to be the bit that clients want and agencies are good at.

But still we have a plethora of LBJs. No imagination. No innovation. No attempt to improve.

The saying “If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it” has absolutely no place in advertising at this time and place.

Yes, the undeniable longevity of LBJs prove that you can reap the benefits of door drop activity with the minimum of thought. But why settle for that?

A marketing strategy based on sheer dumb luck.

Why not push, experiment, test and evolve?

We at Stepcheck would be delighted to help you with that.

Why not at least attempt to understand why/how/when your leaflet works so you can improve efficiency and reduce wastage?

Why alienate a significant proportion of the population by using sector level targeting for propositions with limited appeal?

And why not reward those that read your item?

Make it worthwhile.

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