There was a wave of excitement in the offices of GBN's sister title IT Week yesterday morning as several of my colleagues arrived to find exciting looking packages on their desks.
What could it be they thought: a cutting-edge piece of new kit to review; that book they ordered off Amazon; a belated Valentine's Day box of chocolates from their loved ones; or had Microsoft dispensed with those pesky bloggers and tried to buy us off with a Vista laptop too.
Nope - it was a giant metal paper clip.
That's right - a giant metal paperclip, wrapped in two layers of thick cardboard, one of which was emblazoned with the url www.biggerthanyouthink.com. Geddit, bigger than you think, and it’s a giant paperclip, geddit.
Now you may have already guessed, but I find this kind of mindless marketing absolutely infuriating.
First up it provides further evidence, as if it were needed, that highly paid marketing execs can get away with any tired, uninspired idea as long as they give it the tag "viral marketing" and insist that it'll create "a buzz, man" (and yes, I am aware of the irony that by moaning about biggerthanyouthink - whoever they may be – I am in some perverse way evidence that this approach has worked).
But more pertinently such stunts are insanely wasteful.
Six of these pointless ornaments have been delivered to our office, replete with packaging, and I don't doubt plenty more have been sent to various magazines across the country. Now I won't pretend half a forest has been wasted because of this little marketing jaunt, nor do I want to sound like a complete killjoy, nor am I arguing all instances of direct mail marketing are futile. But quite frankly is it worth wasting a single ounce of natural resources, or indeed a single penny of marketing budget, on something quite so facile and ineffective?
It is of course unfair to highlight the lack of marketing inspiration and environmental responsibility displayed by Biggerthanyouthink - or more accurately its PR company - because they are certainly not alone in adopting this environmentally damaging, financially wasteful and tragically ineffective approach to marketing.
IT Week's offices are frequently bombarded with similar instant landfill ornaments from uninspired PR companies trying to drum up a bit of coverage for their clients; while hardly a week passes without some credit card company or another sending me a letter offering the opportunity to bankrupt myself with them.
Every single one of these letters is torn up and chucked in the recycling bin – and still they come, wasting my time, the credit card companies' money, and, when you consider that every household gets such letters, countless tonnes of carbon emissions and paper.
I am not advocating an end to all snail mail, just junk mail. It makes no sense environmentally and, while its continuing existence would suggest otherwise, I can't believe it makes much sense from a business perspective.
There is another way.
Spam filters may have (thankfully) put paid to the green dream of all junk mail going online, but technology can still play a role in limiting the environmental impact of direct mail marketing. There are now increasingly sophisticated software programmes - known as business intelligence (BI) solutions - capable of analysing customers' habits and circumstances and working out if they are likely to respond to a promotion or not.
Companies that have successfully deployed these systems have been able to simultaneously slash marketing budgets, enhance customer satisfaction and reduce their environmental footprint because they only send marketing material to those who might be interested – after all junk mail is not junk mail if the recipient is actually interested in the product.
Any credit card firm, for example, that took the time to apply such analytics functionality to their marketing databases - or if they can't afford the software just applied a little bit of common sense - would quickly realise that a customer that has never responded to a credit card application letter and has only got one credit card is probably not worth pursuing.
Such software may also help other firms conclude that there is no circumstance whatsoever when it is a worthwhile exercise to send anyone a giant paperclip. But then again, I would have thought that much was obvious.
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