Napoleonic, WSS & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday 22 December 2013

Hooptedoodle #113 – Donkey Awards – Seasonal Stationery

Originally, I was going to single out Marks & Spencer for special mention, but a little further research proves that they are no worse than any other supplier of cards, wrapping paper and other festive tat, so that would probably have been unfair.

The item in the illustration is a gift tag from M&S – specifically intended to allow you to write the name of the recipient and a suitable message on your lovely, gift-wrapped present. The bad news, of course, is that the tag is glossy, and there is no writing medium which I have yet discovered which will work with it. Ballpoint, roller-ball, gel sticks, felt tips and my beloved Sharpie pens refuse to dry properly, and will remain smudgable for ever. Even old-fashioned fountain pen ink will not dry – I have tried – it is like writing on a plastic bag. The ink forms globules which cannot be blotted or blown dry. Even swearing doesn’t help. I can see that, in the midst of all this huge, international, seasonal festival of waste, it might be a nice idea to introduce a little re-use – I’m sure that a damp sponge will enable the recipient to clean up their tag and send it to someone else – the flaw in this is that, once again, the new name will not dry.

Something wrong here. The design seems to have concentrated on appearance and market appeal – this is what our customers will buy. The actual functional bit of the spec seems to have been dropped at some point. Our research indicates that customers are not interested in writing on the bloody thing.

There is more. There seems to be a great fashion for coloured envelopes – we have sent out a lot of cards which have envelopes in a fetching, deep cherry red. Very nice, and they set off the overpriced stamps nicely (don’t get me started on that…), but it requires a very heavy black marker pen to address them in such a way that the poor old mailman will be able to make out where they are going. Something not quite right there, either.

It could be worse. A couple of Christmases ago we had to use some envelopes which combined the worst of both these features – they were glossy, and they were silver. Giving up on finding any kind of pen which would make a readable mark on them, I resorted to sticking on white labels, and addressing those. It’s a trade-off – I accepted the reduction in aesthetic beauty in the interests of getting the greeting cards to the intended friends and relatives. I may have no class, but I do worry about stuff not working.

And then there was the big planning calendar we had on the kitchen wall two years ago. Glossy paper. You couldn’t write on it with any ease, except with marker pens, and they soaked through to the other side of the paper. Bong!

The concept of inappropriate stationery is certainly not new. Almost thirty years ago I was involved for a while in designing and commissioning insurance mailshots in what – in those days – was rather contemptuously described as “Readers’ Digest style”. Laser printers of industrial size were still rare and very expensive, and normally ran in big specialist sites which were booked through third parties. Around this time I remember using the print shops of Grattan’s (in Bradford), and United Biscuits (in Binns Road, Liverpool, next door to the old Meccano factory), but the designers and project managers for the big print runs were a specialist marketing company based in the Cotswolds. John, their project manager, and I had quite a few days together, hanging around the print shops while the jobs ran, and he told me a number of excellent tales of the lucrative and sometimes chaotic world of marketing which he inhabited.

My favourite concerned the Sunday Times Magazine. At the time, the STM was something of an iconic publication for the new, upwardly-mobile classes of Thatcher’s children. Quite a number of the high profile ads in the magazine were handled on behalf of clients by this Cotswold firm. One week, one of their most successful regular STM advertisers requested a last-minute change to their advert. It was a rush job, but it was a special request from the chairman of the company, and he was prepared to pay whatever it cost to get his hot new idea onto people’s doormats the following Sunday.

It seems that he had seen an advert in an in-flight magazine while he had been flying home from the USA, and it was printed in inverse configuration – i.e. white text on a black background. He loved it. He was smitten. He wanted one. He wanted his advert to be changed to this format – and he wanted it immediately. To blazes with the expense – the chairman had spoken.

The design bureau ran it up, and it did, in fact, look stunning. With a lot of overtime and sweat the Sunday Times ad was changed, and they ran with the beautiful new advert.

Sadly, the advert – as always – featured a clip-off corner coupon to allow the excited readers to request a quotation and a full catalogue. Since it is almost impossible to fill in a clip-off coupon which is printed in white-on-black, this full page, back cover advert on the Sunday Times became the very first advert of any sort in that magazine for many years to achieve a completely zero response.

No-one had thought of that. John reckoned, with hindsight, that there were so many high-powered specialists involved that they managed to overlook a problem which maybe the office cleaners might have spotted…

They may all be employed nowadays in the Christmas card industry. Let's hope so.

1 comment:

  1. Merry Christmas Foy. I look forward to another year of Prometheus in Aspic and may your pens always mark your writing surface.