How to use “official” envelopes for direct mail

There are two basic envelope strategies for direct mail packages: the teaser envelope and the mystery envelope.

The teaser envelope is just what it sounds like. It’s a direct mail envelope covered with teaser copy about the envelope contents. This makes it clear that the contents are advertising something. Often there are photos or illustrations, copy details, even a statement of the offer.

The mystery envelope by contrast, generally gives you no clue about the envelope contents. Sometimes the envelope shows nothing more than the return address and postage or looks like a personal communication.
The idea here is for the mailing to not look like advertising.
“Official” envelopes are a subset of the mystery envelope. They don’t tell you exactly what’s inside, but they raise the curiosity level by making it appear as if the contents are important and urgent.
Here’s an example I received recently:

This official looking envelope uses a simple red bar across the front with the words “OFFICIAL BUSINESS” and the outline of an eagle, giving it a semi-governmental appearance. The words “Immediate Reply Requested” adds a touch of urgency.

Also note how the Washington D.C. address works with the concept. There’s no printed indicia, but rather metered postage, something used for business correspondence.

No teasers. No handwriting. No pictures. No clue about what’s inside. All you know is that this envelope looks important and better be opened. I knew the technique being used and even I felt compelled to open it.

What’s inside? A renewal notice from Advertising Age. Do I feel tricked? No. And that’s the beauty of the official envelope. While it creates the impression of an urgent message, it doesn’t mislead you in any way.

When should you use an official envelope like this? My general rule is that if there is any doubt about whether you should have teasers on the envelope, go with a mystery envelope. If you’re not sure the plain mystery envelope is right, try the official envelope.

The only caveat is to make sure you don’t carry the idea so far that you end up deceiving and therefore annoying your prospects (and violating basic ethical guidelines). You don’t want to create an envelope that masquerades as a notice from the IRS, for example. The envelope I’ve shown you above is a good example of how to do it right.

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