More with Splatter Film God/Direct Marketer Herschell Gordon Lewis

As we discovered two weeks ago, Herschell Gordon Lewis is known among cult-movie fans as the 'Godfather of Gore,' for his influence on the splatter film genre, as well as unto marketers for his successful career as a direct response copywriter. Lewis, 79, has worked on campaigns for client Omaha Steaks for around three decades, while carving out a living penning direct marketing columns over the years. He’s also authored books such as Creative Rules for the 21st Century, Effective E-mail Marketing and On the Art of Writing Copy. Because of his vast expertise, Brandweek brought Lewis back for an additional pair of sit-downs to learn even more. Below are some excerpts from the second installment of the three-part discussion:

Brandweek: Borrell Associates last week released a report that said direct mail would decline in spend by 39 percent over the next five years. With so many advertisers moving away from direct mail, could it actually be that the medium may become a more lucrative way of cutting through all of the online clutter in the future?

Herschell Gordon Lewis: Snail mail certainly is in a decline, and equally certain is the ongoing shift away from this medium, whose operator—the U.S. Postal Service—has adopted the peculiar philosophy that since they’re doing less business the solution is to raise rates for the one group of users who might represent temporary salvation. But that very situation can be a positive, because when one opens a mailing, fingers on the other hand aren’t on the mouse, fighting for competitive attention. The day’s e-mail is a prime exemplar of clutter, because as displayed on the screen all e-mail is competitive with all other e-mail. And social media are hairshirts, compounding the clutter.

BW: What specific marketing niches would be particularly unwise to abandon direct mail at this point and time?

HGL: Print catalogs— provided their issuers aren’t so terrified that they use their books as feeder-mechanisms for their Web versions—still retain pulling power. And mailers who know how to create potent envelope copy will survive until the bulk of such mail is a major promise on the carrier envelope, not fulfilled by the contents. A simple rule: “One-to-one,” professionally applied, will achieve both readership and response. That principle, misapplied, will achieve temporary attention unsupported by profitable response.

BW: If a CFO is dead-set on “going green” and wants to abandon direct mail, how can a marketer talk that CFO into staying the current course and not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water? Is it as simple as pointing to the analytics sheets? The data pages theoretically should, at the very least, show that the brand Web site sees more traffic and sales when a piece lands in-home. Or is there more politicking the marketer need to do?

HGL: Any marketer who refuses to test and re-test deserves demotion to a secondary position in market share. The creative team should pitch the possibility of a profitable education: We’ll learn something, we’ll stay abreast of market trends, and we may beat not only the control but the other medium. Incidentally, turning the marketing reins over to the CFO is a dangerous course, because too often the goal is temporary cost-saving—a false economy that will result in short-range black numbers and long-range red numbers. A CFO with a tight checkbook is as perilous to corporate future as is a [chief creative director] who values art directors’ awards above response.

(Next week: “Part III: Tested Tips for Multichannel Campaigns.”)