The Complexities of Simplification

Remember when you were a kid and you learned how to fold a single sheet of paper into a little device that would allow you to tell fortunes? I was reminded of that device recently when my controller walked in carrying the latest direct mail package she received from FedEx. Being a good voyeur of marketing content, she brought it to my attention because she had inadvertently ripped one of the contents inside—and flung it down on my desk declaring it was “stupid”

Remember when you were a kid and you learned how to fold a single sheet of paper into a little device that would allow you to tell fortunes?

It seems it’s called an Origami Fortune Teller and over 1.3 million people have watched the instructional video on YouTube (side note: wish I’d thought to create that video when I didn’t have anything else to do).

I was reminded of that device recently when my controller walked in carrying the latest direct mail package she received from FedEx. The 6″ x 9″ envelope carried a simple teaser line: “My FedEx REWARDS.”

Being a good voyeur of marketing content, she brought it to my attention because she had inadvertently ripped one of the contents inside—and flung it down on my desk declaring it was “stupid.”

It turns out the envelope contained two items: a single-sided “card” and a multi-fold, multi-glued insert that was … well … stupid. This particular insert added no value to the communication other than it was one more item in the envelope.

Whoever designed it probably needed to watch the Origami Fortune Teller video to get some better ideas on how to design something like this because, with its multi-fold/unfold option, it simply wasn’t intuitive—thus the ripped piece that was now lying on my desk.

The insert didn’t add one additional piece of information—not one nugget of “surprise!”—and, in fact, the message inside (that it was easy to earn more great rewards and experiences) was counterintuitive to the experience we were having with the insert.

I think this is a great example of creative gone awry. I’m fairly sure the marketing strategy behind this direct mail package was to inform customers that there was a new FedEx Rewards program. And, the support messaging was:

  • To acknowledge that our company had reached a certain status level.
  • To inform us that we would earn five points on every $1 spent.
  • To excite us that we could redeem points from a robust rewards catalog.

All of that information was on the single-sided “card” that was easily scannable—so why the addition of the extra piece? Why spend the money creating, designing, printing, scoring, cutting, gluing, assembling a device that added no value?

Shall we blame it on the bored production manager who wanted to produce something more exciting than a card in an envelope? Or perhaps the art director who wanted to include a new format in the portfolio? Or the marketing manager who had a bigger budget to spend and it was “use it or lose it” time at the end of the quarter?

Is anyone in marketing at FedEx measuring the effectiveness of this package? Is it being tested against a package that doesn’t contain the insert? Or against a postcard? Or a simple letter in an envelope? If I was making a bet, I’d bet that the response rate AND the cost-per-responder on the package with the insert will be the biggest loser.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for innovative, fun, intelligently designed interactive marketing materials that achieve the desired the marketing objective. But when you have a simple message to communicate, keep the communication simple. Oh, and think about giving the mock up to a couple of people not related to the project to see if they can open it/interact with it without tearing it to shreds.