Wunderman: DM Is Iron Fist in Velvet Glove

NEW YORK — It's not often that German social philosopher Friedrich Engels' fascination with the thumb is brought up at marketing conferences. But industry veteran Lester Wunderman made the connection in a keynote presentation yesterday called “The Iron Fist in the Velvet Glove: How Direct Marketing Advertising Differs from General Advertising.”

Engels was taken by the thumb's ability to make tools, a key advancement of civilization. A young Wunderman used it to hitchhike across the country.

“I use it now to move people out of my office,” Wunderman told a room of attendees at the DMD New York Conference at Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

The 45-minute keynote was replete with metaphors of iron fists and velvet gloves. It was also full of references to personalities and campaigns of another generation and persuasion.

An old dust-up between ad agency McCann-Erickson and the Wunderman direct marketing shop was dredged up. Eyeing Wunderman's Columbia Record Club account, McCann suggested a 13-market television test aimed to push consumer traffic to the TV Guide and Parade titles, where ads ran to sign up members.

McCann garnered impressive gross rating points. But the spots were no match for Wunderman's bonus album offer through the use of a gold box at the bottom of the ad. The direct shop's ads outperformed its challenger's in terms of its lower cost and, more importantly, results to a call to action for buying music.

Attendees were told to emulate Ernest Hemingway's famous line of “grace under pressure” in their campaigns. That is amply evident in contemporary DM copy and execution, matching the sophistication of general brand advertising. However, direct marketers must not forget “what makes us champions,” Wunderman said.

But mainly, the octogenarian Wunderman pushed the old point that direct marketing not only was as good as general brand advertising, but also worked harder for the marketer.

Direct marketing should not offend or irritate any of its audiences, be they clients, consumers, shareholders or company directors, Wunderman appealed. He suggested the more genteel approach preferred by advertising greats like David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach.

Ogilvy's print ad for the Rolls-Royce car came in for particular praise. Running decades ago, the ad was headlined, “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”

“We shouldn't create advertising that is so bare-knuckled that it overstates the case,” Wunderman said.

Still, he repeatedly underscored the differences between general advertising and DM.

General advertising, Wunderman said, should push the brand image, personality and awareness. It puts the product into an identifiable, custom-made velvet glove for customers, he said. Furthermore, general advertising should identify the brand as being unique in the marketplace. It has to be ubiquitous, around consumers as they shop.

Direct marketing is all of the above, and more. It is not just an advertiser-to-consumer monologue. It is a dialogue that encourages meaningful, measurable action from its marketing to consumers. The goal is to increase sales and create a database of ongoing customers and prospects.

A large part of what Wunderman said could be found in a textbook. It certainly looks to make its way into his upcoming book on direct marketing, the first since Random House released “Being Direct” in 1997.

“The direct marketing glove must cover an iron fist,” he said. “Its fight must end in a knockout — an immediate purchase or registered attempt to make a purchase.”

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