Monday, November 19, 2007

Scented junk mail. Oh dear.

Apparently, the advent of email has reduced the volume of snail mail. I say "apparently" because my own mailbox never seems empty. In an effort to counteract this trend, the British Royal Mail has, on advice from an Oxford consulting firm, opted to try "reinventing" mail, taking it from a two-dimensional medium to a "three-, four- or five-dimensional medium."

I'm not making this up. You can read it here.

How to do this? Traditional mail is aimed at the visual system because, well, the visual system seems particularly well tuned to the kind of information we want to convey with mail. That's why we have text. But in this modern, digitized age, that's not enough. Modern mail must be enhanced by adding elements of sound, smell and taste

The Royal Mail is on the case with a sales force of 300 dedicated to helping businesses develop, and decide that they need to send "noisy, smelly junk mail" (That's probably not the designation the consultants at Brand Sense had in mind, but it seems apt).

As far as I can tell, the underlying rationale is that the mail needs to compete with email, and its unique advantage lies in being able to engage all the senses. Since email can send sound and video just fine -- more conveniently, one could argue -- that really leaves smell, taste and touch.

On the radio piece I heard, the Brand Sense spokesman described using scent not just in a literal way, as with perfume or dish soap, but more abstractly. Use citrus scents if you want to convey freshness and excitement, for example. Intriguing, to be sure, but just what need are we trying to fill here?

The whole idea of the state-run mails competing with email seems strange. If there's less need to send paper around thanks to email, that's a good thing, not a problem that needs to be solved by inventing new kinds of paper to send around, much less expending resources actively trying to convince people to do so.

Mind, I expect the consultants would have a different take.

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