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ALL CAPS are Good in Small Doses


Visually, my snail mailbox is beginning to look and sound like Grand Central Station at Friday pm rush hour.

Just this past week, a postcard and a self-mailer came through on the same day. The marketers couldn’t be more different. Nothing could be further apart than my interests in reducing taxes and trimming my waistline.

And yet, the creative solutions were remarkably similar. One accomplished with color what the other did with size.

ALL CAPS in the Mailbox

ALL CAPS in the Mailbox

Postcard or  self-mailer…typographic solution…limited color palette. These sound like  good solutions for recession marketing. Here’s the trouble: Differentiation. If it works for you, then it’s probably working for other marketers trying to reach the same target audience.

If every creative team is going with postcards and ALL CAPPING, then consumers aren’t listening (i.e., reading) because of all the typographic clutter. It’s as simple as AIDA:

Postcards work best when type builds and leads the story. We’re all under pressure to engage readers sooner and lift response higher. Some may be using direct mail postcards for the first time and not be aware of the power and pitfalls of all caps.

Direct mail offers visual rhetoric — postcards especially. The effectiveness of the creative message can increase (i.e., lift)  response by more than 13%, according to Getting Creative with Direct Mail: Benchmarks and Preferred Practices (Direct Marketing Association, Inc. (2007). Here are some helpful reminders:

Created with (c)

Created with ©

1. Let the size of the card speak first.

By design, postcards stand out in the mail, helping us share news briefly with friends and loyal customers. Launched by the US Postal Service in the late 19th Century, postcards are widely used by marketers for the full cycle of customer relations.

Unconstrained by an envelope or letter, the postcard message and the card become one. You can’t see the card — or pick it up — without seeing the message. As the creative team, that presents a question: how large do you go?

  • An oversize card that extends an exclusive invitation shouts hoopla; while
  • A small friendly reminder from a florist or optometrist reinforces a relationship and builds loyalty.

2. Use CAPS sparingly and intentionally.

Disrupt the receiver’s attention from every other message and distraction (i.e., disintermediate). Just be aware that overuse of ALL CAPS dilutes both the message and its impact. The reason is simple. Our eyes focus on individual letters vs. words with two results:

  1. our brains slow down (increasing the possibilities for distraction); and
  2. the co-hear-ence (spelling error intentional) of the message is lost.

Front cover / Oversized mailer

Oversize Self-Mailer - Front

Look at what happens on this page. Look at the image, close your eyes, then open and let your eyes wander (quickly, we’ve got a lesson to learn) to where they will.

Most likely, your eye goes to the white negative space (i.e., map), not the text. Pumping up the ALL CAPS creates a visual traffic jam. While my eyes are figuring out which way to go, they could just as easily wander to the other card in my field of vision:

Postcard Acquisition Campaign

Oversize Postcard - Front

This postcard also uses all caps, but nothing else. Visually, it uses weight and focus to state a single message. The weight and size of the type also “pulse” and direct your eye. There’s not a space that hasn’t been considered or planned for.

4. Choreograph AIDA.

On the front of a postcard, our eyes move to the center first. Flip to the back  and you get the most read from the top left.

AIDA Coreography

AIDA Coreography

Use the front and back as an organic piece. Choreograph interest, engagement and response. Apportion A-I-D-A to different sections of the card. It’s essential for the art director and writer to team at every stage of creative development.

5. Keep the message shorter than a tweet.

Copywriters, keep your message short. Try saying it out loud — if it takes more than one breath, edit. ALL CAPS don’t make up for weak headlines.

Most of all, the front of a postcard should give the reader a reason or desire to flip the card and read what’s on back. This automatic, passive response primes the reader to actively consider the Call to Action on the back.

6. Ask yourself: Do I really mean to shout?

Type transcribes a spoken conversation into a written one. Each tweek of the typeface, size, and emphasis sets the tone, context, and volume of the conversation. ALL CAPS are akin to shouting. So ask yourself the next time you’re ready to click that style button or select that face:

(c) 2009

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