12 Brilliant Direct Marketing Pieces You Have to See

by on 6th December 2010 with 28 Comments

Direct marketing is all about connecting with customers in a real way. To accomplish this effectively, you often have to come up with some crazy unique and inventive ideas. The next time you’re in a meeting where people are ideating about direct marketing ideas, use these as inspiration to wow the group!

All of the examples below are from Ads Of the World, an excellent online source for all kinds of real and conceptual advertising and marketing examples. This is a truly invaluable inspirational resource for anyone involved with printed marketing deisgn.

Skoda Yeti: Park Assist System

This postcard was meant to advertise a new parking assist feature on a car. The card contained a little car that you tear off of one side and place on the other. When you stick it onto the designated spot, magnets unexpectedly push the car into the tight parking spot!

Click the link to check out the video and see the card in action.


IKEA Lack Side Table: Pop-up

I just love these little 3D popup ideas (there are several in this post). The basic idea is to engineer something that ships flat but pops up into a 3D object when the receiver opens it. It’s completely uncommon for a postcard or magazine to jump into the third dimension so even if it’s been done before, the element of surprise is huge and impacting.

This implementation advertises IKEA’s famously cheap little square tables. When you open the magazine insert, out pops a little IKEA table to remind you that you’ve always though about picking a few of those up.


ADT Security System: Box

This one is my favorite on the whole list. It’s probably a little too evil and would surely invite a frivolous lawsuit or two in the U.S., but the shock of seeing this would be pure gold.

The general idea is the same as the IKEA table above. There’s a flat box that is engineered to pop up into a cube. However, this one is much larger and is slipped under the doors of the inhabitants in an apartment building (a mail slot execution could work too).

The effect is that when someone walks in, they see this huge cube in their apartment that says “Breaking into your apartment is easier than you think.” Obviously, it’s advertising a security system.


WWF Earth Hour: Candle Box

This one is fairly simply but proved quite effective. To encourage corporate CEOs to celebrate Earth Hour and shut down all the lights for a single hour, candles were sent to their offices.

The visual message is clear in the image below and the execution is pretty clever. Apparently, corporate support increased 260%. I’d call that a success.


San Jose Blood Bank: Blood Donation

I love the simple but brilliant visual image presented by this one. All they did was wrap a paper ad encouraging people to give blood around a newspaper with a rubber band.

The effect: the rubber band looks like a tourniquet wrapped around the arm and offers an instant visual read to anyone who has ever had blood drawn. Simple, cheap, effective!


Companhia Athletica: Calendar

This one is interesting because it is directly aimed at solving a problem. Gym members often become discouraged after not seeing immediate results, which causes dropped memberships.

As a response, the gym gave out these funny wall calendars that helped members visualize the long process of losing weight and becoming fit.


ELMSTA 3000 Horror Fest: Zombie Panic!

This one isn’t the best on the list but I still thought it was an interesting idea. The zombie film festival mailing sent out was covered in holes. When you open it you realize that they’re bullet holes and see a message that says “don’t panic, aim for the head.” The bullet holes appear just about everywhere but on the zombie’s head.

Junk mail is usually uninteresting and it’s a real task to get someone to actually open and read something (I know, I used to create junk mail for a living!). The holes serve as a way to prolong the trip to the trash can. It’s unexpected and interesting and your curiosity will force you to open the envelope and see what it’s all about.


NFL: The Trojan Ball

This one is really interesting and is yet another angle on shock value. The package was sent out to high level CEOs who could influence their company’s marketing budgets. The box obviously looks like a soccer ball and contains the message “inside is the ball 28.5 million US Hispanics truly identify with.”

Naturally, the CEO expects to find a soccer ball inside but opens the box to find a football and an advertisement for the NFL. Any company that was really looking to effectively target hispanics (something advertisers do frequently in the U.S.) likely gave some serious thought to the message delivered here.


Amnesty International: Chopsticks

This idea puts a clever twist on a familiar item. Pencils that looked like chopsticks were given out and where the typical chopstick instructions are written, these steps were printed:

  • Tuck under thumb and hold tightly.
  • Write the Chinese government to help end torture.
  • Don’t let human rights violations by the Chinese government give China a bad name.
  • Take further action at amnesty.org/china

LavOnline: Tomato Splat

This campaign helped raise awareness for a laundry service and makes excellent use of some interesting materials. Consumers were sent a box containing a squishy toy tomato that could be thrown at the printed shirt on the inside of the box. The tomato completely flattens out and sticks to the box, only to gather itself up (cleaning the shirt) and become a full round tomato again.

If you don’t believe it would work, follow the link to watch the video and see the magic tomato in action!


Enogarage: Wine glass invitation

This one shows that you don’t have to have a huge budget to make an interactive marketing piece. The simple wine mailer has one piece that pulls out of another. As you pull, the wine glass fills up.

Again, for these types of campaigns the main goal is to get the potential customer to merely look at the advertisement for a bit longer than they typically would. In this case, upon noticing the illusion the receiver is likely to play with it once or twice and perhaps even show other people present in the room.


GGRP Sound: Cardboard Record Player

This one is nuts. Imagine you were tasked with sending out actual functioning record players (made of cardboard) as a way to advertise for a sound company. Could you pull off the task? These guys did.

The construction is genius. It ships flat, holds the record, and folds into place in only a single step. Then you place the record under the needle and spin it with a pencil. I’m not sure if the campaign was worth the time, money and effort they spent on it, but I can’t help but appreciate the final product!


Is it Worth It?

The examples above are all quite impressive, but the key question to ask is whether or not it was worth the expense. The problem with great direct marketing ideas is that they’re usually targeted towards a fairly small number of people when compared to a commercial or other more traditional advertising method. However, they have the potential to be far more impacting than mass media.

So what do you think? With a limited budget, is it better to make a small impact on lots of people or a large, meaningful impact on a small number of people. Also, which of the examples above do you think would effectively encourage action and which would merely be seen as an moderately interesting piece of physical spam that still hits the garbage can immediately?

Comments & Discussion


  • http://www.freedomstudios.co.za Graham

    These are awesome!

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  • http://www.sparkinthedarkdesigns.com Louise

    fantastic list!

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  • http://pepsmedia.com Vero

    Ads like this are always great fun to see and make advertising feel less of a raw sales process. Often though, the ads are less memorable because of the brand/product/cause advertised and far more because of the quirkiness of the idea. In that case, the ads end up being more for the ad agency that came up with the clever idea than for the client who commissioned it!

  • http://www.lifeimitatingdesign.com Graphic Designer

    Nice list. Are they worth it? If they make you smile, remember the product and enforce the brand, then yes. Are they more for the ad agency than the client? No. Which ad agencies are mentioned above? Enough said.

  • http://www.sumitchauhan.com sumit chauhan

    Ultimate marketing pieces.

  • http://www.fredag.as Hans

    Great ideas and direct marketing pieces, although I do not believe all of these are “limited budget” campaigns. However, I also believe that most of them did a great job. I particularly liked the blood donation and the Earth hour candle – great execution!

  • http://www.imageconjurer.com London People Photographer

    As long as the ROI on a small campaign is worhwhile then it can be expanded.

    I’d be really interested in an article taking the same concept but with online techniques.

  • http://www.seibways.com Christine

    I really love the Earth Hour candle box. Not only does it provide a compelling experience with the packaging, but it provides a tool for the actual event, a reminder you’re much less likely to discard. The success for the campaign is well deserved.

  • http://derekoscarson.posterous.com/ Derek Oscarson

    Self-promotional and marketing pieces like these always strike me as bait for design annuals and blogs more than being practical business solutions. OF COURSE some of these are brilliant but once you are talking die cuts it can really undercut your ROI. It would be nice if we could see a cost per unit on these. Although DM has been proven to work.

    Simply put, if you have the budget and time to make things like these, do you really have a marketing problem in the first place? I feel like it’s more impressive if these pieces DON’T have much of a budget and are addressing a serious weakness for the company. Feels like a luxury 99% of designers never get to experience.

    • http://abdulalim.com abdulalim.com

      That’s absolutely right! They look good, but do they actually pull? It’s one thing looking at an ad and saying awww thats cute and a whole other thing getting people to respond. Most of the time, pretty DM doesnt work, you gotta get rough and win people hearts, minds and more importantly wallets!

      Check out a DM piece that’s pulled 10% and costs less than 1 pence per piece on http://www.McAbduls.com.

  • http://ideasandpixels.com Allen Gingrich

    Each one of these pieces are equally amazing!

    That said, having done many print projects where I decided to innovate, I am always forced to give up on such elaborate ideas once the client sees the price tag. In the right situations though, these advertisements could have a huge ROI.

  • Kyle Kratky

    I think focused direct marketing like this is inspiring. I am an artist apart from my work in social media, and I love seeing these little works of art being created and shipped out to people. There’s strong artistic value in this kind of thing, and that sets it above a typical commercial on prime time TV. This kind of thing is what really attracts thinkers and creators to your brand, and those people will, in turn, extend their reach to influence others. Rather than hitting the general public, they should be hitting those with high influence to be their ambassadors.

  • http://FivePetPlace Five Pet Place

    The ADT box idea is brilliant.

  • http://helpjoey.com/ JG

    I love the cardboard player :-)

  • http://www.tensecondsstudio.com Cheryl Darrow

    All of these pieces are very effective. I liked the box slid under the door. These are seen by the masses when they are published into books on advertising and the masses by the book. Cost is always the most important issue on who will see this stuff. Or pinn this site and more people come back to look at it here.

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    I was just searching for this information for some time. After six hours of continuous Googleing, at last I got it in your website. I wonder what is the lack of Google strategy that don’t rank this type of informative sites in top of the list. Generally the top websites are full of garbage.

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