If you get a piece of mail from A. Kent Merrell, you'll know it. The message may come written on a popcorn bag, a pillow or an egg carton. The phrase "standard size envelope" does not exist in his vocabulary.
Merrell deals in "designer junk mail." His motto is simple: "I hate real safe advertising because it shows no guts. And I don't like ads that try to trick people into thinking they're getting something they're not. I like creativity and honesty."For Merrell, the biggest crime in the advertising game today is the trend toward boredom. And Merrell's RPM Direct ad agency does its best to buck the trend.
"I'm just your average guy, a consumer," says Merrell. "I've never sold yachts or airplanes. When a bank was thinking about hiring us they asked if we had experience with banks. `Yes,' I said, `about 23 years.' That's how long I'd been a banking customer."
RPM is a seven-soul organization with a track record like a fine, light race horse. Many companies hire Merrell to pick up stragglers - consumers who were missed in the first wave of an advertising blitz. And Merrell's success rate is high. If you want a heavy wallet, goes the RPM wisdom, keep the pitch light.
"When we come up with a clever idea that fits just our client and no one else, then we know we have a winner," he says. "What our direct mail says to people is we're not ashamed of cutting down trees to get this information to them."
When a cable TV company wanted a little more pop in its sales pitch, Merrell and friends sent out a message printed on a popcorn bag. "When You Subscribe to Cable During National Cable Month," the read-out line said, "Even the Popcorn Is Free!"
When consumers wrote in to sign up, Merrell mailed them a video cassette case full of ready-to-pop corn - with the blessing of the FDA, of course.
In a campaign to catch the eye of doctors, RPM sent out an envelope that read "Important X-Ray Enclosed." There was an X-ray, of course, an X-ray of a jaunty skeleton diagnosed as having "no ulcer, no worries," "clear vision and bright outlook" and other ailments worthy of envy.
Another flyer reads: Behind many of the most successful businessmen there are some really boring books." The campaign was to promote government publications that contain hard facts and figures.
"The campaign begins when my art director and I sit down and talk," says Merrell. "We always come up with some stupid ideas at first, but then we get playing with them and pretty soon good stuff starts to emerge. Then we get the other people involved."
That approach garnered three awards at the Echo Awards this past year and it has made Merrell's company a hot property.
"One thing I have learned," he says, "is that people around the country aren't that different. They tend to be frugal, they like the benefits to be obvious and they want reading material they can understand and get through quickly. I know. I'm like that myself."
In short, you can take those observations to the bank.
Kent Merrell does every day.