Deliver Magazine. Mail Marketing Strategies from the U.S. Postal Service®

Sensory Mail Grabs Hold of the Target


Illustration of 5 senses

An Appeal to the Senses

Spring came early this year in many of the nation’s colder regions, courtesy of lawn care giant TruGreen. In February, oversized postcards with a picture of a lush lawn in the foreground and a family in the background began showing up in mailboxes of 1 million prospective customers of the lawn care company. “Say helloto Spring,” the card read in big white letters.

On the lower left side of the postcard an invitation beckoned: For the smell of a healthy spring lawn, peel here.

The scent of fresh-cut grass filled the nostrils of potential customers who accepted the invitation.

The scented postcard, a key component of TruGreen’s integrated marketing campaign this year, is the Memphis-based company’s first foray into sensory marketing.

“As a company we wanted to change the conversation from killing weeds to lawn enjoyment,” says Amy Simpson, director of brand communications for TruGreen.

While it’s too early to release any definitive data on this new campaign, the evidence so far suggests the use of the scented postcards was well received, says Simpson: “We have anecdotal comments from customers. They say it evoked an emotional appeal, and they liked the smell. It made them want to be outside.”

Sensory marketing is generating a lot of buzz in corporate suites these days. Although there are no hard numbers, an increasing number of companies appear to be blending smell, sound, video and taste into their direct mail campaigns. Beverage companies, pizza companies, jet airplane dealers, nonprofits — all are signing on to this emerging technology, some even incorporating more distinct forms of paper and plastic into mailers in an attempt to etch their products indelibly in customers’ minds.

“The more senses a brand uses, the more memorable and engaging to a consumer,” says Jay Minkoff, president of First Flavor, a suburban Philadelphia firm that uses taste in marketing campaigns. “Those distinctions are becoming more recognizable by marketing agencies and their clients.”

Taste and Smell

First Flavor recently demonstrated the effectiveness of one of its products — a flavored filmstrip that instantly dissolves in the mouth — during a campaign for a major soft drink manufacturer. To evaluate the popularity or potential popularity of one of its beverages, the company mailed a survey featuring a strip of the drink to 5,000 homes.

Of the 1,650 who responded, 76 percent who tried the strip said that they were “very likely or somewhat likely to buy the product in the next week,” says Minkoff.

Even political campaigns are getting into the act. During the 2010 gubernatorial race in New York, a Republican candidate mailed a brochure to 550,000 homes with the headline “Something stinks in Albany.” New York residents who opened the mailer were assailed with the smell of old garbage, according to Warren Pugach, president of Sixth Scents Products in New York, which was responsible for embedding the scent into the direct mail piece.

Sight and Sound

Moving images and sound are vital players in this new technology too.

Matt Murphy, founder and president of Fusion 92, a Chicago company, has been developing concepts that incorporate video into direct mail packages for car companies, travel agents peddling vacations and jet ownership companies. The video is triggered by the mailer being opened or a button that is built into the mailer.

“There is usually a call to action to view the video,” he said. “The video can be queued up, or there might be a button underneath the cardboard that allows you to view the video. It has a strong call to action. It might ask you to call this number or go to a website to redeem an offer.”

Crystal Martin, CEO and founder of mailPOW, a California company that specializes in incorporating video and sound into direct mail pieces, is currently working on a campaign for a health club that features a talking self-mailer. The health club mailed out 2,500 cards at the beginning of June. The mailer, which is targeted at women, has the picture of a personal trainer named Dan on the cover. On another panel are women working out. When you open the card, Dan’s voice is automatically heard. For 30 seconds Dan talks about the amenities at the gym, acknowledges how intimidating the big fitness machines can be and talks about how he can make newcomers feel comfortable by working out with them.

In March, amid a campaign to pass a finance reform bill, mailPOW designed and sent out a mailer to 3,000 people on behalf of AARP. The targets were all 100 U.S. senators and key media outlets. The bill had been approved in the House of Representatives but appeared to face uncertainty in the Senate. The card featured the lyrics to a song that had been written for the campaign. When opened, the card belted out the song for 30 seconds and encouraged the recipient to join in the singing. The Senate passed the bill.


The distinctive feel of a direct mail piece can be just as powerful. Last fall, Curley Direct, a direct mail firm in Yarmouth, Mass., executed a marketing campaign for a local restaurant using the restaurant’s database.

The mailer was a piece of paper treated so it looked and felt like plastic. One corner was perforated to the dimensions of a credit card so recipients could tear it off and keep it in their wallets.

“We put high-end personalization on it,” says John Curley, who runs the firm with his father and brother. “We put each person’s name on top of the card. The offer was $10 off your bill. Then on the back of the card they had a unique customer code.”

Curley said the campaign yielded a 30-percent response rate.

Five Senses = Emotional Connection

Not everyone is buying into the novel idea of sensory-linked direct mail just yet. “It’s necessary to train traditional direct marketers that it’s not just about price per piece,” says Murphy of Fusion 92. “If your ROI is lower but your acquisition and response are higher, then it may be worth it as well. We are trying to get marketers to be not so hung up on cost per piece.”

mailPOW’s Martin says the first step in overcoming resistance is persuading reluctant executives to examine the product.

“The moment they pick up a sample and listen to it they have an emotional reaction,” she says. “They would either react with surprise or have a big grin. Any time you can make someone have an emotional reaction to a marketing piece, you now have top-of-mind awareness.”

Martin adds that a sensory marketing piece tends to have longer staying power in the hands of a consumer or potential consumer. “When you add a novel piece it doesn’t go in the trash right away,” she says. “It hangs around in the house for a while.”

Dimensional Mail, Integrated Marketing, Large Business, Loyalty, Medium Business, Product Samples, ROI, Segmentation, Small Business, Social Media, Strategy, Targeting, Trends