Mail Story: Old Toys, New Tricks

In the 1992 animated film Toy Story, Woody the cowboy sees his position as Andy’s favourite toy jeopardized when his parents buy him a Buzz Lightyear action figure. 

Buzz is a space ranger. The old-fashioned cowboy can hardly shake a boot at all the impressive features the shiny newcomer has. Buzz shoots lasers from his wrists; he can call-in at space station Star Command; and he can be accessorised or upgraded to the nines. While the Cowboy requires Andy to yank a piece of string before making a noise, Buzz operates with buttons. He’s the future, Woody’s the past.

In one scene, the neglected cowboy finds himself left in a trunk with all the other outdated toys. Andy no longer wants him.

In some ways, our industry can be a bit like Andy. We’re obsessed with shiny things; anything that creates buzz. While the R&D of technologies in marketing is impressive, traditional, reliable methods are often left in the box.

GDPR brings a new set of challenges that affect the way we interact with these technologies. It’s unprecedented, but digital channels will be hit the hardest. Those old-fashioned ‘Cowboys’ are going to see plenty of new investment and innovation.

It’s already happening with Direct Mail. We’ve explored the likes of JICMail (which you can read about here) and a ballooning industry investment in 2017 (Read Here). But clients might be less likely to understand how much of an opportunity Direct Mail is going to be when GDPR comes in.

The ICO has stated that brands will not need consent for postal marketing. If you can show that your handling of people’s data is proportionate; has a minimal privacy impact; and a lesser chance of objection from customers, marketing activities get the green light under ‘legitimate interests’. It isn’t as simple with e-mail or other digital marketing channels.

Image result for toy story buzz arm


The unexpected happens. When Buzz is taken by neighbourhood-naughty-kid Sid, it seems all hope is lost. The toys, in a state of panic, elect good-old, reliable Woody to lead a rescue mission. But for the space ranger, it might be too late. His voice box breaks; the wings stop working; an arm drops off. An existential crisis begins; he’s already coming to terms with his limitations as a toy.

Like the disillusioned space ranger, we’re beginning to see limitations. How far can marketing-technology go with people’s data? From augmented-reality and machine learning to email, the industry is responsible for keeping customers in the light about important data laws.

Direct Mail, on the other hand, remains an opt-out media. This means consent may not be required. Large swaths of brands’ databases are not going to be contactable via email, but may still be with Direct Mail.

It’s an example of how marketing’s reliable, traditional toys are not out of date, but ready for innovation, and more than capable of improving the relationships between brands and customers. According to the DMA, 71% of marketers see GDPR as a ‘creative opportunity’.

Mail has great cut through, and a proven open rate significantly higher than email and other media; as a result, all win back opportunities become heightened. Better yet, people receive less mail than in the past, meaning that your direct mail will stand out.

Speaking up

Woody and Buzz are going to need to work together if they want to escape from Sid’s house.

During the child’s menacing toy barbeque, Woody concocts a plan to teach him a lesson, and hopefully change his behaviour for good. But they can’t do it alone. They need to work off of each other’s strengths if this is going to happen. This is it, the time is now. For the first time, they speak up.

It’s not just sentient plastic and plush dolls that make the biggest noise together. But as this (long-winded) metaphor has expressed: the industry often doesn't fully harness the capabilities of combining print with other channels. Marketing works best when it’s integrated. Brands shout louder.

The kind of investment from savvy marketing types includes a dual DM-Programmatic system tested by the likes of Continental, re-engaging lapsed customers. Better still, with GDPR, customers can prove an opt-in by scanning barcodes or AI features in the ‘creatively digital’ DM of tomorrow.

It’s not surprising the burst of innovation we can expect from heightened industry investment driven by GDPR. Mail is the third most invested medium – having risen 10% in annual spending since 2015. Expect to see new boots on an old Cowboy.

Image result for toy story woody and buzz flying

Buzz and Woody escape. In a moment of daring, they drive RC the toy car into the sky, as Woody holds on, and Buzz uses his wings to guide them safely into Andy’s lap, through the window of his mum’s car.

There - that wasn’t so hard, was it? With a bit of teamwork, they end up exactly where they want to be, with the right child.

And that goes with the consumer too. As long as GDPR limits the role of email and martech, brands and marketers are thinking about Direct Mail as a sure way to engage people. Brands are invited to be more creative; more innovative in their use of data. The Andy’s in our database can be fed with the type of communications they want to read, and with investment in new metrics from JICMail, DM is going to learn how to get closer to the right consumers, and how to have better conversations with them. 

Who says an old cowboy can't show us new tricks?

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