Professional Jeweler Archive: Hardly Working

December 2000


Hardly Working

Postcards, once heralded as the harbinger of hip advertising, may not get results

When businesses began putting their messages on free postcards distributed from trendy bars and nightspots a few years ago, Gen-Xers fell in love with the cards as a low-tech form of un-advertising. Jaded by the marketing blitz in which they were raised, they collected and traded the cards with friends.

As it turns out, the cards' favorable image with their target audience has limited value for advertisers. Many now suspect the 31/2-by-5-in. ads don't work, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Introduced to the U.S. in 1994, free postcards quickly grew to a $25 million-a-year business, thanks to advertisers such as Sony, Nike, Volkswagen and Donna Karan being willing to gamble on an unproven medium. The cards were up to 40% cheaper than billboard or magazine advertising and promised a path to hard-to-reach young consumers.

Some locations devoted so much space to the cards they ran out of wall space..

But nothing is hip forever and some advertisers are getting out. Giorgio Armani has discontinued its apparel ads while Seagram's has pulled its Absolut vodka ads.

BodM(at)x RACKS and GoCARD, two of the largest card producers, each say they distribute 5 million cards per month, though they disagree on what happens to them. M(at)x RACKS says 40% are mailed by consumers, 42% are saved and the rest handed to family and friends. GoCARD says only 4% go into the mail.yCopy

Another company, HotStamp, says it matters only that the cards are seen, and what subsequently happens to them doesn't have any impact.

With skepticism growing, card companies are devising ways to measure effectiveness. Auditing is expensive, however, and probably will drive up the cards' cost and possibly reduce their effectiveness.

Calling attention to the cards as ads would make them less hip. And that, of course, was the original basis for their appeal.

"Anything they can do to gauge the effectiveness of these cards will only turn consumers away," says Christie Nordhielm, assistant professor of marketing at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.

– Mark E. Dixon

Postcards distributed in bars, coffee houses and clubs were the hip new thing a few years ago. The problem is they may not work as advertising.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications