Fonts + Direct Mail Response Rates

Fonts are a funny thing. Invariably the font(s) used by a brand are specified in the brand guide. These guides address all of the internal and customer-facing issues the brand will typically face. Things like how, where + when the brand's logo can and cannot be used, the colours that represent it and the colours that can be used to compliment it. The type of photography that will enhance it, the tone and manner of customer facing copy – as well as the fonts, or typefaces, that are required, or acceptable in a pinch.

The font(s) that you see a brand using have (invariably) been chosen by the brand’s advertising, or branding, agency. The selected font(s) are selected to help differentiate the brand from the competition practically (in terms of how the product or service works) and philosophically (in terms of the brand’s character, its tone and manner).  While larger brands may do some focus group testing to find out if one of their brand recommendation options is more attractive to the intended audience than another, all too often the guide is designed + developed by a creative team with little or no front-line brand experience. Sold to the client by an account team with little or no front-line brand experience. And bought by a client who is flattered into buying what-ever the agency recommends. 

My laptop comes loaded with over 200 fonts – and that’s just for English. Why? 

Because the right font in the right place + time can make a BIG difference.

For example, a recent study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University found that the effectiveness of fundraising appeals aimed at fighting hunger during the present pandemic varied depending on font use.

  • When a heartfelt message is sent in a handwritten font, response rates can be over 12% higher than the same message in a typical font.
  • When the appeal is based on organizational efficacy + a business-font is used, response rates go up 12%.

There are at least three lessons for you here:

  1. While the brand guide you've been asked to work with may claim to be all-inclusive, the creators of the guide were only human. Sometimes the message and the medium conspire to require you to re-visit some of the brand standards that you've been taking for granted.
  2. The aesthetic + philosophical needs of the brand don't always align with the functional, tactical, needs of your brand.
  3. As a committed brand steward, you need to fight for what’s best for your brand in the long run - even if it’s looking for exceptions to long established brand standards - because a brand without a vibrant customer base is not a brand. It's history.   




Remembrance Day


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

                                  - John McCrae, May 1915



Recessions | Agencies | Clients | Life | Career


I was 26 when the 1981-3 recession hit. I recall some clients cutting back on their spending but my job was safe because I was an entry level media estimator at the time. When it ended two years later I moved to another agency.

Since people like me were doing all the grunt-work and only making about $8,500 a year, our jobs were safe. I was also much too young and stupid to comprehend the impact thta this recession would have on my future career options and choices.


I was 35 when the 1990-91 recession hit. The sales declines that Domino's Pizza saw in the U.S. prompted their marketing team to fire Group 243, their U.S. agency. That prompted Domino's Pizza Canada to follow suit. The Agency and I were given notice and I started looking for another job. 

I was still too young and stupid to understand what impact these recessions would have on my (advertising) career attitude, options and choices.


I was 53 when the 2008-9 recession hit. The sales declines that my General Motors saw in the U.S. and Canada prompted them to review their agency contracts. The cuts in agency revenues prompted MacLaren McCann to lay off staff. I was given notice but I never got another job. I tried the freelance work path and fell in love with the cadence of it.

I was now old enough and smart enough to understand what was going on, but I didn’t have financial resources to make the wholesale changes needed to really profit from this recession. While I knew that “where there’s turmoil, there’s opportunity”, I didn’t have a plan that would enable me to look for opportunities.  


I’m 65 now and have been freelancing for twelve years.  The 2020 Covid 19 recession is in full swing and ad agencies around the world are in survival mode again - cutting (cost) corners any way they can. My freelance work dried up by the end of February.

My back-up plan was my investment portfolio, which dropped 26% between February 16 and March 16. Each dollar was now worth 74 cents.

I’m older and smarter now and I’ve got a plan to help me identify opportunities - and it's working well. 

I took my own advice and focused on emerging, rather than the lost, opportunities. The result is that 2020 is a banner year for me. Between March 16 and October 16 I grew my portfolio by 50%.  My 74 cents are now worth $1.13  Had I not changed my focus I’d be sitting here crying the blues, and trying to squeeze my life into a 74% budget.

For those of you who understand what’s going on, are adaptable, know how to spot opportunities in your - or a related - area of expertise, and can finance the transition, there are many positive outcomes to this, and any, recession. 

The Canadian Encyclopedia puts it like this:

“(recessions) can encourage firms to focus on productivity and the quality of their product to better compete. They can also encourage firms to look for new markets to keep their companies profitable. Recessions can encourage the creation of small entrepreneurial firms that can compete with lower costs and innovations. They can force larger companies to examine the scale of their operations and how they are managed. Some defensive companies, which remain stable during shifts in the business cycle, perform better than others during a recession. These include food producers and discount retailers — companies with products that are in stable demand. Nevertheless, overall declines in production and incomes coupled with higher unemployment make recessions a challenging time for most.”

A final word to the wise. Older agency managers have gone through this before and know how to weather these storms and come out ahead. Talk to them and learn from them. Don't text, zoom or dismiss them. There’s far more to life than the free advice available online.  




The Playbook


I was 31 in the summer of 1986  when my brothers and I went to my Dad’s retirement lunch. 

No fancy dinner, no gold watch, no retirement bonus. Just one free lunch for a dozen or so well-wishers.

On that day he parked a large block of acquired knowledge and wisdom that he began collecting in the fall of 1954 when, at the age of 33, he his wife and their five children immigrated to Canada from Germany. Before the war, he had been a Cabinet Maker working in the same workshop that his father and grandfather had honed their talents in. 

Here he had to retool and eventually became a Construction Superintendent: he was the man in charge of building some of Toronto's large office towers on time and budget - and then maintaining them. Shortly after he retired he went back to his first love - cabinet making. He made + rebuilt a variety of pieces for my mother, himself and other family members.

It bothered me then, and when he died twenty-two years later, that all of the personal and professional knowledge would not be passed on. I was too young and busy with my own life and my career to figure out how to tap into all of that knowledge without putting my own life and career on hold. But each time a senior resource retired I saw a lifetime of invaluable brand equity being poured into the gutter without a second thought.    

And now it’s my turn.

It’s October 2020 and I just retired. 

And just in time for my professional departure for the advertising world I've found a very smart + simple solution to my knowledge transfer dilema. It’s called a Playbook. Sports team coaches have been using them for years. On or offline, they're a wonderful way for your company to capture all of the key business lessons that enable you to flatten the learning curve for those who will follow in your footsteps. Playbooks imporve your odds of winning the day, are good for moral, your clients and your business’s long term viability. 


Use a search engine to serve up a wide variety of examples + how-to guides.   


Start writing yours soon - time flies when you’re having fun.





MacLaren All Staff Memo . . . Sept. 8, 1937

all staff memo