• D&AD Awards 2018
    Extended Deadline 28 Feb
  • Extended Deadline
  • 28 February
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Inspired by Communications

In partnership with Royal Mail

Inspired by Communications

Is Direct Marketing Dying?

Nicky Bullard is Executive Creative Director at LIDA/M&C Saatchi and previously acted as Foreman of the Direct jury at the D&AD Awards. In this article she highlights the merits of successful marketing case studies and talks about the future of direct marketing awards. 

D&AD Judging 2014 Direct Jury at kensington olympia
Nicky Bullard and the 2014 Direct Jury

Is Direct Marketing dying?

No. Not in the real world. In the real world it’s thriving.  

But in award shows, yes. 

And it’s a slow and painful death.


Other disciplines are ‘encroaching’ on ours; that sounds defensive and it is. I think our category is seen as an easy win. Advertising agencies that have a cracking piece of work, that happens to have a CTA, quite understandably think it’s worth a punt.

And sometimes, shock horror, their work is just better than ours.

BBH caused a stir with the brilliant Refuge creative, and McCann Melbourne cleaned up with the phenomenal Dumb Ways to Die. 

So why is it better?  

It could be because they have the freedom to have big ideas.  

It’s HARD to have a big and original idea in our channels. Often Direct agencies are forced to do the old ‘matching luggage’, make the most of assets created by advertising agencies for press and TV. It makes absolute sense to squeeze everything you can out of an asset that’s cost a bloody fortune, but maybe it’s where the asset was created in the first place that’s the issue.  

Do great campaigns all start with great TV or press? Sometimes yes. Are other channels ever considered for a campaign launch? Often no.

What do we do about it? Challenge the start point. And let's have stricter entry criteria in the shows (more of that later).

We could of course also raise our fists and in a Somerset accent shout “get off our land!”. I might try that and see what happens. Maybe not.

Oh and do better work. That might help.


We’ve let it happen. We’ve even played the new game.  

That poster wasn’t created to get a response? That’s ok, it’s a great idea.  

No solid results? Ah well, it’s a great idea, let’s keep it in.  

No targeted audience? Yeah but it’s a good idea so will make our category look better.  

Just a stunt? Never mind, it’s a great idea.

Having been lucky enough to be foreperson for the Direct jury at D&AD 2014, I was able to see, and thus laugh out loud at, the audacity of some agencies entering work with ‘results pending’.  

If you can’t prove it has worked, it hasn’t worked. So it isn’t a great bit of Direct. It’s up to us to kick that work out of the process, and agencies to save themselves some cash and enter the right categories.

WARNING: Find some sand and bury your head in it if you don’t want to know this bit.

I’m being really honest here, a lot of the work was shockingly shite. Particularly the Direct Mail. So we need to up our game.  

There were hundreds of Direct Mail entries, only three made it through to our shortlist.

Air Force FM
Air Force FM. Nomination, 2014. George Patterson Y&R Melbourne

That’s so, so sad when Direct Mail is such a great platform for craft.  

Craft. Remember that?! Copy entries are getting fewer and fewer across all shows. Why is that? Is it down to the craft gap of the noughties? When ‘happening’ creative departments hired young teams who were just ‘idea teams’ with no defined art director or copywriter roles? Rather than idea teams who had both skills?  

Why on earth wouldn’t you employ a team that had both those skills? Did we all go mad after years of adhesive sprays and marker pens?

And where’s the hands-on training in creative departments? 


Deadlines have become tighter and there isn’t even time to do the overnight test. More like the over-lunch test.

And that’s lunch at your desk, not the pub.

So there really isn’t space to train the next generation; they have to learn on the job. And fast.


So what do we do about it? We can just moan. Or we can do a bit of a Vinny (another great Direct campaign, and yep, created by an ad agency). 

We still have the creative talent, the strategic nous, our data geniuses and some pretty brave clients. 

But it’s up to us. 

At D&AD, I commandeered a flip chart and the jury and I set about defining what we thought every piece of winning work should demonstrate. Here’s where we got to:

It was pretty simple, and made the judging easier. It may seem purist but so what? Let’s be purist about our fantastic discipline. Great work got kicked out because it wasn’t great Direct work. Great work won because it was great Direct work.

Let’s train our next generation.

Let’s encourage clients to interrogate the start point.

Let’s enter the right work into the right categories. 

And let’s not award work that isn’t pure Direct.

Long Live Direct.

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

For more creative inspiration and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s best design and advertising, join us at D&AD Festival.

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