Museum of Direct Marketing: The case

The frightening pace of change in today’s marketing, advertising and media worlds makes one wonder: Will any of these new vehicles or tactics last long enough to merit serious consideration in business history books? And what happens to the old mediums and strategies that are washed away, sidelined or marginalized in this consumer-controlled communications era? Direct, interactive and database marketers need to think about the past’s role in the future. And for that reason it’s time to establish a Museum of Direct Marketing.

Call it MODM (pronounced modem). This museum would serve as a repository of direct marketing material – print, audio, video, three-dimensional objects and so on – for posterity. The goal is to encapsulate in one place influential direct marketing work done nationwide and overseas that helped marketers acquire and retain customers – or didn’t.

Where to start? The Direct Marketing Association could lend or donate its collection of notable Echo award entries over the decades. So could the John Caples International Awards. Between the two of them, you have a chronicle of some of the best U.S. and international direct marketing campaigns that went out the door.

Next, target retailers like Sears, whose catalog in the 19th and 20th centuries set trends and furnished homes. Ask Sears to donate a copy of its first catalog, with an accompanying history, and then also key books dropped over the decades. Same goes for J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, Lands’ End, L.L. Bean, The Sharper Image and Lillian Vernon. The donors also should send along oral and written histories and videos of interviews with the founders and top executives.

Retailers and advertisers could submit marketing e-mails sent over the years for different occasions, along with case studies, too.

The same effort can be replicated by producers of DRTV commercials for clients including GEICO, Ginsu Knives, Time-Life, Nautilus and the countless brands that build their business urging people to “Call now!”

Direct marketing agencies can donate samples of significant work undertaken for clients over the decades. They can donate the tools of the trade, some no longer in use and others au courant.

Interactive agencies can donate screen grabs and records of the first banner ads from online pioneers such as Amazon.

You get the drift. You can apply the same approach to insert media, e-commerce, print ads, magazine copies and offers, book publishing, printing equipment, instruments and recordings from call centers, screen captures and case studies of famous search campaigns, and copies of discs used to store lists before their electronic delivery to mailers. Don’t forget the AOL disc and the Bose insert – direct marketing tactics that built those brands.

This collective effort would reflect the direct marketing industry’s effort to educate current and prospective practitioners, as well as recipients of DM messages. It also will capture pivotal marketing moments in time that helped shape U.S. business. It will archive this industry’s contribution to commerce and fundraising.

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