25th Anniversary Issue: DMA Awards Become Echos in 1979

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In 1979, the Echo competition was enlarged to encompass all types of media and changed its name from "The Best of Direct Mail." Here are my conclusions after reviewing 30 winners from 1979.

Some techniques are dated and dead. Dorsey Laboratories got a gold Echo for a scratch-and-sniff storyboard competition intended for children and mothers in pediatricians' offices to promote Triaminic cough syrup. That would be an invitation to a lawsuit today, but the device of involving the child and mother together travels well.

Another dead one is a technology. Lear Siegler won a gold Echo for its business-to-business mailing of a stopwatch to CEOs to promote "mail mobile," a delivery machine that follows a painted magnetic path along the floor of a large building. That idea is still valid for testing internal processes, but the mail mobile is no more. Alas, the one at Reader's Digest chirruped out a cheerful little "beep" when it stopped and gave a double warning "beep" goodbye when it was about to set off.

When you see some of the winners, you would think they were just invented. Searle Labs received a silver Echo for a prescription antacid medicine done with a series of distorted pictures of parts of one's anatomy that are part of a constructed mailing piece with reflective parts. One is challenged to fold the piece properly to see the undistorted picture message, and the mailings gave doctors scripts to use with patients suffering from severe gastric distress. It would be a winner today.

Some campaigns look very familiar. General Electric did a series of BTB mailings to potential power generating and distribution companies (engineer buyers of technical products - talk about database challenges!) to promote a PCB substitute called DiElecktrol that was promoted as safe.

The mailing started with an empty aquarium, continuing with sand, a little underwater castle and seashells. Respondents got a salesman's call complete with fish and water in the last package. A gold Echo then, and gold three years ago to a Norwegian firm using at least two of the steps to promote the DMA's annual conference.

Some winners showed technology on the march. Indra AB of Sweden, with its "King Meatball" campaign to caterers, promoted its new machine-made "contact" fried meatball as a tastier, more economical alternative to handmade fat-fried meatballs. It received a gold Echo for an increase in sales of 98 percent over the handmade control meatball.

Finally, "free" works. Always has, always will. Jeweler Hans Péclard of Switzerland earned a gold Echo for a traffic driver to its first-ever trade fair booth in 1978 in Geneva: a genuine certificate of one share of DeBeers Company stock to the first 1,000 visitors to its booth. Cost: 60,000 Swiss francs. Revenue: 1.2 million Swiss francs. Return on investment: 20 times.

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