Sept. 3 2008 10:14 AM

Envelopes have been known throughout history for safely carrying important messages. The origins of the envelope can be traced back to clay wrappers used by the Babylonians in 2,000 BC to protect mortgage and bookkeeping documents, deeds and letters. Over time, with the increasing need to transport documents and letters, the clay wrapper evolved into lightweight materials, including leaves and papyrus.


According to Effective Direct Advertising, 1921, the first example of direct advertising is traced to 1,000 BC, when an Egyptian landowner wrote an advertisement for the return of a runaway slave on papyrus. The first reference to direct advertising is found in one of Pliny's books, around the time of the birth of Christ. It wasn't until the invention of moveable type by Gutenberg in 1434, however, that direct advertising became popular. The first American direct advertisement was a pamphlet published by William Penn in 1681.


Today, direct mail has evolved into direct marketing and encompasses direct mail, email and telemarketing. A recent national survey conducted by the Envelope Manufacturers Association Foundation and Harris Interactive found that consumers are more receptive to direct marketing that comes in an envelope via the mail than other forms of direct marketing.
Most adults trust envelopes as the safest way to send written information, just as the
Babylonians did 4,000 years ago. Yet in marketing circles, the envelope gets no respect.


Of all the tools in the direct marketing mix, the envelope gets overlooked the most, which is unfortunate, because unless the envelope gets opened, the message inside is of no value. Envelopes grab our attention and maximize impact. According to the EMA Foundation survey, 75% of Americans are more receptive to direct marketing that comes in an envelope in the mail than direct marketing presented in any other form.


Consumers do not respond in the same way to online marketing, and businesses that rely heavily on the Internet have found envelopes extremely useful in driving online traffic. Companies realize that e-marketing and direct mail via envelopes work together to impact online business opportunities.


Envelopes provide a safe, secure, private vehicle for communication. They make people feel secure that information will reach its destination. Online vehicles do not evoke that feeling. In the EMA survey, consumers perceive online bill receipt and payment as too vulnerable and too risky and prefer receiving bills and making payments in an envelope through the mail. Because of new technologies, marketers can send highly personalized messages in direct mail campaigns, increasing response rates. This includes sensitive information such as mortgage rates, account balances, points records, purchasinghistories, income, age, marital status and number of children in a household. While detailed and highly targeted information is a boon for direct marketers, it poses a safety problem for consumers, who are vulnerable to identity theft as well as other predators.


This is not the type of information you want delivered on a postcard or in an email. Let's face it. With low response rates in an industrythat is under constant fire for the misperceptions of environmentalists and privacy advocates, why would anyone even consider direct mail? Because it works! If 98% of what you did was destined to fail, why would you continue to do it? As an industry, we spend a small fortune on purchasing the right list, on mail houses and postage and on creating the message inside. With response rates of less than two percent, we must lay some of the blame at the feet of the envelope.


To wit: If more people opened the direct mail envelopes that arrive at their doorsteps, the industry would experience higher response rates. It takes the recipient three to eight seconds to decide to open the envelope or toss it in the recycle bin.


The time spent sorting, organizing, allocating and reading the mail is called "The Mail Moment" by the USPS, a "highly interactive daily ritual that consumers devote to bringing in their mail and discovering what it offers." It is during The Mail Moment, in the blink of an eye, that an envelope must be noticed, pique interest and get opened. All of this must occur before the offer inside can be read and considered. Without an opened envelope, the carefully worded letter and expensive full-color brochure inside will go unseen.


If the envelope fails in its mission, all the money spent for print, postage, paper and personalization is lost. The envelope makes the critical first impression, yet the envelope is the Rodney Dangerfield of direct mail.


Carrier, outer, OE, by any name, the humble envelope is one of the smallest cost items in a mail package, less than one percent of total production costs. Multitasking and over-achieving, the envelope would appear to be under-appreciated and underpaid. Already a bargain, the envelope actually is expected to perform two jobs to protect and deliver the package contents and to persuade the recipient to look inside.


The envelope must protect and securely transport the marketer's message through mountains of mail being processed at high speeds in postal facilities around the world. Whether going across the globe or just across town, every envelope will be folded, stuffed, sealed, addressed, sorted and drop shipped to a regional postal center, where further handling and sorting will be required to reach one mail box.


Surviving the delivery gauntlet and arriving in one piece, un-torn, legible with all contents intact is no small feat. Mailers take it for granted because the rate of envelope failure is miniscule. Given the high rate of mailpiece failure, shouldn't direct marketers be paying a little more attention to envelope designeven if it meant allocating a little more budget for envelopes? Direct mail needs to be private, respected and relevant or it is of no value to the person receiving it.


Tips for respecting the envelope and increasing response rates:

  • Make sure you budget for the creative development of the envelope just as you budget for the creative development of the message inside. This means interesting, relevant copy and full-color design for the envelope. The envelope should be created as a companion piece to the message inside, and it should be given a place in the creative brief. All marketing materials in your campaign, including your envelope, should be speaking with one voice.

  • Stand out in the mail as opposed to being lost in the clutter by designing a full-color envelope with a relevant message.

  • Size matters. Part of looking different includes the size and shape of the envelope. Take advantage of postal regulations and consider using sizes such as a 6 x 9, #10 or #14 instead of a 9 x 12 to reduce costs and stand out in the mail. Your creative team should be up to speed on postal rates and envelope sizes, shapes, etc. before they ever start designing the message inside and the envelope that will carry it.

  • Make sure your print production manager is knowledgeable about postal regulations and costs, paper, coatings, varnishes and printing options:

    o Offset printing provides the best color and image reproduction when envelope artwork features photos, halftones and fine screens. Sheets are printed first, then die-cut and folded. Flood coverage, full bleeds, tight traps and close registration are a snap with offset. Full-color offset printed envelopes are considered the "gold standard" of direct mail envelopes, providing rich, brilliant color, more paper choices, coating for scuff resistance and visual effects.

    o Flexographic or flexo printing is done while the envelopes are being folded. Flexo quality is good, but it's not always suited for sharp halftones and fine screens. If Flexo meets your quality standards, it can be very cost-effective, especially for long runs.

    o JET printing, printing pre-folded envelopes in an off-line process, is best suited for small runs of already converted envelopes. Copy can't wrap from face to back, bleeds can't go to the edge or too close to a window, and registration can be imprecise. Not as many colors can be printed at one time as with other processes. Jobs with heavy ink coverage can smear.


  • A template makes the designer's task easier, helping him or her to be mindful of how each design fits onto an envelope blank. Envelope size, construction, fold location, gum lines, flap shape, window positions and bleeds all come into play. Starting with a template means knowing precisely how much bleed to add and how close copy can come to a window or perimeter edge. It means less pre-production re-work, getting proofs faster and avoiding folding and mailing problems. Envelope dies vary among converters, so always start with a template from the
    converter folding the job.


    According to the EMA's Because It's Personal study, among the top 10 reasons consumers want to look inside an envelope are "stands out from other mail," "sense of urgency,"  "message written outside" and "know what it's about." Consumers are three times as
    likely to pay attention to direct mail sent to their home than they are unsolicited email, Internet banner and pop-up ads, telephone calls to their home, person coming to their door, text messages and mobile phone messages combined. And they pay more attention to marketing materials sent in an envelope than they do information sent on a postcard or flyer. With all the respect consumers give envelopes, it's high time we elevate envelopes to their proper status as an integral part of the direct marketing mix.


    Ed Glaser is Director of Marketing at ColorTree. Contact him via email at or by calling 804-545-2566. ColorTree of Virginia is a manufacturer and printer of full-color direct mail envelopes. For more information, visit


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