Oversize Direct Mail. Fish or cut bait.

Oversize Direct Mail: Postcard? Envelope package?

Oversize Direct Mail

Last week’s mail brought an example of a package that is worth talking about. Not because it was especially good or bad, but because of the components, and how better choices were missed in designing it.

Dissecting the oversize direct mail package

Components: 6×9 plain outer envelope with imprinted corner card (return address with logo), and an 8.5 x 5.5 4/4 color insert on heavy card stock.

My first thought upon opening the package was “Where’s the letter?” When I realized there was only the card inside for an upcoming event by a local chapter of the BMA, I then wondered why it came in an envelope? Was it because someone heard envelopes outperform postcards in direct mail, and was using that tactic to get better response?

The card inside the envelope was designed in such a way that content filled both sides and all areas. But different choices in typeface and graphics could have made this piece mailable as an oversize postcard.

Let’s take a step back for a moment. Years ago, and still today, research and testing have shown that on average envelope packages outperform postcards and self-mailers. There are some exceptions, but based on similar content and presentation (no cheating), head-to-head, the envelope format will net higher response rates. it’s important to note that putting a postcard inside an envelope doesn’t make it a traditional envelope package. There is much more to a well-executed envelope package. In their book, The Direct Mail Solution: A Business Owner’s Guide to Building a Lead-Generating, Sales-Driving, Money Making Direct-Mail Campaign (affiliate link), Craig Simpson and Dan S. Kennedy outline seven critical things to include in a direct mail package.

Downsides to just putting your postcard into an envelope.

Doing what this marketer did costs more money for the same totality of message impact. The odds of getting the reader to open an oversize direct mail envelope without a tease line is not necessarily higher than a postcard. The size is a dead giveaway that it’s promotional to the reader. It’s not typical of bills, personal letters, or greeting cards that tend to have heavier weight to them (see my post about the heavy package that uses weight to great effect) especially when there is no tease line used to build curiosity and get the reader inside. As Otis Maxwell writes in his book, Copywriting that gets RESULTS! (affiliate link), work hard on your outer envelope tease line. If you aren’t using a tease, and are revealing the sender, your target may toss the envelope based solely upon the amount of brand equity the sender has in the mind of the recipient. Little equity, less response. There’s no reason to pay higher envelope postage when all that is inside is a promotional postcard.

IMG_2059_600x450If the desire was to use the full impact of an oversize direct mail envelope package to announce and invite the recipient to an event, instead of a full-color card inside, a letter, even if not personalized, along with a lift note that expanded the messaging area to allow for speaker bios or other information about the organization, could have cost the same or less than the 4/4 color postcard. Lift notes are proven direct response tools. In his book on the art and science of direct mail creative techniques, Million Dollar Mailings (affiliate link), Herschell Gorden Lewis shows you how to write and use lift notes.

On the other hand, production efficiency is the priority, then changing the format from a card inside an envelope to an oversize postcard would have been a better choice. The cost to print and mail can be lower, and inserting costs are completely eliminated. Depending on mailing quantities, inserting and other production costs can raise the cost-per-piece of a mailing considerably. Instead of an 8 ½ x 5 ½ inch format, the card might be scaled up to 6-1/8″ x 11-1/2″ x 1/4″ thick (per USPS Business Mail 101 page), or somewhere in between that may cost a little more in paper, but allow enough room for the postal information to be included. You can learn more about preparing direct mail for US Postal Delivery at the USPS website. In addition, Lynda.com (affiliate link) has a useful online course, Print Production Fundamentals (affiliate link).

Opportunities to consider

Even if scaling up the size is limited or not an option, there are opportunities in the card to edit the copywriting, design and typefaces to save space for postal information on one portion of one side. This piece announces an upcoming event, and was created to drive sign-ups. It doesn’t have to do the whole job by itself. Some of the details, bios and messaging, and furthering of engagement, could have been left to the landing page for the event.

A very successful creative director I worked for taught me that as a designer, it pays to make friends with your print production person, printer and US Postal representative. These are the folks who can help you find ways to create more efficient mailings, and can offer up suggestions about small format changes that can make big differences.

I hope this review of some real-world direct mail has been helpful. It’s an example I thought was worth talking about because of the possibilities for improvement it presented.

What have you seen in the mail lately?


I’m a creative problem-solver helping clients who use Direct Marketing but need more effective lead generation and deeper customer relationships. You can learn more about me on LinkedIn.