Is Mailing 17 Pounds of Catalogs Brilliant or Insane?

RH Catalogs

A few months ago, UPS dropped off 13 Restoration Hardware (RH) catalogs at my home, weighting 17 pounds.  The catalogs contained a total of 3,340 pages!  We didn’t ask for these catalogs.  We’re not frequent RH shoppers.  We probably bought 10 towels from them in the past couple of years – that’s it.  So is RH insane or brilliant?

Maybe they’re brilliant…

  • The catalogs are gorgeous.  They’re filled with wonderfully designed merchandise that’s incredibly well presented.
  • The catalogs demand attention.  I had an immersive, 20-minute experience with them and the RH brand – and I’m disinclined to throw the catalogs away right now.  It’s hard for any intrusive commercial or digital ad to accomplish this same feat.
  • I now fully understand this brand.  They’ve enlightened me to their current design sensibility, pricing, and scope of merchandise.
  • Direct mail can be a breakthrough medium.  The open rate on this mailing is probably over 90%.  Compare that to the low open rates of an unsolicited email or the click-throughs from online advertising.
  • This strategy is buzz-worthy.  When is the last time anyone told you about a catalog mailing?

Or maybe they’re insane…

  • The communication cost was outrageous.  Again, this was 13 catalogues, with 3,340 pages, weighing a total of 17 pounds.
  • We’re not loyal customers.  Treating your best customers really well is a logical, time-tested marketing strategy, but it’s unusual to spend so much money on an infrequent shopper.
  • Environmentalists will be annoyed to receive 17 pounds of paper.  RH is obviously sensitive to this concern, so the first piece of communication in their package talks about the brand’s “lighter carbon footprint.”
  • Unlike digital, there is little opportunity for this investment to go viral.

What do I think?  Are they smart or insane?

As a long-time scientific marketer, I’m smart enough to know that I’m not smart enough to have all the answers, so I test.  At the end of the year, I suspect RH will have a clear read on the success of this high-impact approach.

Yet without having the results information, I suspect that this was a very smart strategy.  RH is an innovative brand.  This strategy was eye-catching, engaging and great branding.  The brand is now better embedded in my consciousness.  While I wouldn’t recommend this approach for many brands, being bold and being first is often a great idea.  Ultimately, I think their 17 pounds of catalogs pounded their unique brand into me.  What do you think?

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