A box of tricks
If you're a London based graphic designer of a certain age, you'll have heard of Artomatic. It was a fantastic company that helped designers to realise tricky and unusual print projects. They had an incredible print and materials library, a wealth of knowledge, and a great little shop too; and were often to be found behind many D&AD award winning projects.
Artomatic was run by Tim Milne, who has now set up a new venture in conjunction with Royal Mail. It's called Matter, and it's basically a new way for brands to advertise at you. The basis of this is the Matter Box, which is a cardboard box that gets mailed to you for free, and which is full of bits and bobs from various brands. It's direct mail, but with the volume turned up.
The first version of the box was sent out a week or so ago. It had a mix of stuff, including some Play Doh pots (for Sony Bravia), a Wii wristband, a little plastic toy from Sony Ericsson, and some crayons from Nissan. You can see a full rundown of the contents on the Matter Blog, and people have been posting their pictures of the boxes in their homes on this Flickr set.
Tim is being really quite brave by being very open about the project, and sent out this first box as a sort of experiment, asking for feedback on how it might be improved. (Our mate Charlie has written his own great review over here by the way.)
We reckon there's potential for the Matter Box to be really interesting. It's a chance for companies to talk really directly with their (potential) customers.
But we get the feeling it will only succeed fully if they can find some way of tailoring the content to the recipients' personal tastes. Otherwise you're just being sent junk that's going straight in the bin, and that's just a horrible waste. If you're not planning on buying a car, you're not planning on buying a car, no matter how many bits of clever marketing you get sent.
We think that one way forward might be to set up detailed user profiles for people who register for the Matter Box. That way the brands can get a real idea of who might be interested in getting stuff from them; then when you do get the stuff, you're more likely to think, "Hey, yep, this is interesting. And heck, yes, I would like one of those...".
You can see the beginning of something similar on Facebook, which has been tailoring its advertising to the information users have already entered: it actually seems to work quite well. It seems reasonable enough, after all, that if you like the music of a particular artist, you'd be interested in hearing about their next album, or gig.
We've grown up accustomed to broad spectrum advertising, be it on billboards, on the TV, or on radio, where the advertisers shout their message out to everyone, in the hope that just a tiny proportion of those who hear it might be interested. It feels like now there's room for something much more focused, and much more effective.