21 . 02 . 23

If mail gets the most attention, why aren’t marketers giving it more attention?

My old boss David Ogilvy said, “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

Malcolm Auld - seasoned marketer, author, blogger and lecturer at university


And he was right about the importance of the headline – or key visual. The headline is the most important part of any marketing message, for it must grab the prospect’s attention. If it fails to do so, the rest of the message is irrelevant – your money has been wasted. Getting the prospect’s attention is the first aim of any marketing message. This is how’s it’s been forever and it won’t change, ever.

In fact, one of the first documented models for structuring advertising that is still taught in universities today is AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. The model was proposed in 1898 by Elias St Elmo Lewis. He was an advertising advocate who wrote and spoke often about advertising's potential. This model describes a series of steps or stages that customers follow when making purchasing decisions.

In 1925 US psychologist Edward Kellogg Strong Jr. gave further credence to the model, when he referred to AIDA in his book The Psychology of Selling and Advertising.

The model has remained unchanged ever since, though my business partner and world-renowned marketer, Drayton Bird, does use a version AIDCA, which adds “Conviction” to the model, as it helps when developing direct response advertising.

Marketers are a strange lot

We’re always trying to find new labels for models or techniques that have worked for decades. We don’t like to think that marketing practices remain relatively constant, despite changes in technology. We want to appear innovative and at the forefront of change, even if change is unnecessary, or the new label doesn’t improve on the existing practice.

After all, consumers haven’t changed. They still buy and use goods and services from those who supply them, albeit via a broader range of media. As advertising creative legend Bill Bernbach said:

“It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary. It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man. With his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.”

Which leads me to the recent discussions around attention in advertising – particularly in relation to online advertising. Marketers are trying to define what warrants as having achieved attention, as against viewability.

"Viewability is defined as at least half the advertisement is viewable on screen for at least a second"
Malcolm Auld
Marketer, author and lecturer

The largest consumer protest in history

As you know dear reader, consumers pay very little attention to online advertising. And the general attitude towards it, lead to what is known as “the largest consumer protest in history”. Almost 2 Billion consumers have downloaded advertising blocking software to prevent advertisements interrupting them while online. In some countries in Europe, more than half the population blocks online advertising.

By way of definition, “viewability” of an online advertisement is defined as “at least half the advertisement is viewable on screen for at least a second.” That’s not a lot of viewing. Further, only 70% of online advertising is viewable, while only 9% of online advertisements are viewed with intent. Another reason for the low viewability is your A.S.S. Time.

What’s your A.S.S. Time?

I first coined this term about ten years ago. It stands for Average Social Screen Time. Consider yours. How long do you spend looking at the content on your Instagram feed for example, before scrolling? 0.5 second? 1.0 second? Social media analytics company Digivizer claims we scroll more than 110 metres per day on our phones. That’s not much time to grab your attention, let alone to actively view an advertisement.


Quantifying attention

Interestingly much of the debate around attention is how it links to outcomes. Which is curious given that unless the message gets attention, there won’t be an outcome. By definition, the outcome is a result of a message being noticed and acted upon.

Recently JICMAIL conducted some serious research, validated by PWC, about the attention consumers give different media. It is called “JICMAIL Attention Pilot Study” and the results are essential reading for marketers looking to improve their results.


Mail has the highest attention rate

Unsurprisingly, mail has the highest attention rate of any media. Yet, most marketers haven’t realised that when it comes to direct or unaddressed mail, the media is the message. A piece of mail is a complete advertisement. There is no other content within the mail to distract the reader, such as exists with online advertising or a newspaper for example. For that simple reason alone, mail always gets high attention rates.

By its very nature, mail requires a motor action to collect it from the letterbox, view and decide whether to read it or not, then store, share or dispose of it. It is the only media with this level of physical engagement, let alone time allocation to the media.


It’s why mail is known to provide “tactile credibility” – it stimulates all five senses and builds trust in the brand.

The JICMAIL research revealed that on average consumers spend two minutes with a direct mail package and almost 40 seconds with unaddressed mail. This is far more time than consumers spend with advertising in any other media. The next closest media is a 30 second TVC with digital channels a long way behind.


Attention within media planning

But when you apply a value to attention, it becomes even more interesting. While direct mail usually costs more to create, it almost always has far higher response rates than any online advertising. So the cost per lead or cost per sale is usually cheaper than other channels. Let’s look at a comparison of the value of attention between an online advertisement on a desktop computer and a direct mail pack.

Despite its far cheaper cost to buy, an online advertisement’s cost is almost the same as a direct mail pack in terms of cost per minute of attention.

Cost-per-attention-per medium_JICMail_Malcolm_Auld.png

This way of measuring attention’s cost per minute is pioneering research and still in its infancy. But JICMAIL is leading the way in providing quality metrics around such measurement, so media planners and marketers can make informed decisions.

In a rapidly changing marketing world, where digital channels are struggling to perform on their own, and the availability of quality real estate is diminishing, marketers have no excuse not to turn their attention to the power of direct mail for holding customer attention and delivering results.

The challenge for marketers will be to embrace direct and unaddressed mail with the same enthusiasm they had when chasing shiny digital marketing objects. This won’t be easy, as so many marketers identities were built on their belief system around digital media, and they don’t want to lose face. But those who can remove ego from their decision-making will be the ones to succeed, particularly during the coming difficult economic times.


Article originally written and published as blog post for JICMail by Malcom Auld