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Should Direct Mail Design be Ugly?

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“Ugly works” in direct mail design, writes my colleague Denny Hatch in his latest column in Target Marketing (7/08, p. 50).

His premise: direct mail should be intentionally designed to look ugly and junky, because it will increase response.

The reason (here Denny quotes his former boss Lew Smith): “Neatness rejects involvement. If a thing is too neat, a reader will look at it and say, ‘Isn’t that nice?’ and move on.”

Old school DM experts have preached the “ugly direct mail design is best” rule for decades.

But … I can’t help noticing that most of the winning direct mail promotions that cross my desk today are not ugly. They are cleanly designed and easy to read — not at all “junky.”

So let me ask you, Gentle Reader: which school do you stand with?

Do you, like Denny, deliberately create direct mail packages that look crude, ugly, and cluttered — in the belief that “ugly works”?

Or do you find today’s direct mail prospects respond better to a more professional and sophisticated graphic approach?

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