direct mail campaign
A Designer's Unusual Self-Promotion Campaign
by Richard Coyne
Editor, Communication Arts magazine
Around the first of February we got a strange piece in the mail. There was no return name on the envelope, just a rubber stamped roman numeral one. There was no name inside either, only a square segment of a picture and a page from a detective story.
The next day, numeral two arrived. No name again. Only a second piece of the picture and another page (chapter) of the story.
By the third mailing it was apparent that each segment of the picture had been rendered in a different style, probably by a different artist.
There were nine installments, the last being the center (nose and mouth) section. A tenth, follow up mailing had the poster shown at right and a booklet of the entire story.
The subject of the picture, and the hero of the story, Gordon Mortensen, was not mentioned by name until the fifth chapter, but there had been some clues like his having been a graphic designer for Better Homes & Gardens and an art director at Playboy.
Mortensen had come to Santa Barbara as art director of Skeptic magazine. When he left them (Skeptic later had a title change to Politics Today and moved east), he decided to stay in Santa Barbara and be a free lance designer. He soon realized that the work he wanted to do was not all that plentiful and he would have to attract clients from larger cities. thus the birth of this promotion piece.
"At this point I was a one man show, so I decided it would be a good idea to promote me as a person as well as my studio. That's how my face got involved in the promotion.
"I had noticed that many people were impressed with the fact that I had worked with so many talented illustrators throughout my career. Apparently most art directors tend to use just the talent in their immediate area. I think that's limiting. It doesn't have to be that way. So I decided to include the use of nine illustrators from all parts of the country.
"Then I tried dividing up an existing photo and discovered that only a few of the squares would be interesting to draw. So I started thinking of objects to fill the less interesting areas. I've always been fascinated by insects, especially when they're drawn, and I visualized myself being attacked by huge, bigger than life insects."
Then Gordon rented some props from a costume shop and set up a shooting with photographer Barrie Schwortz.
"Then I divided his 16 x 20 b&w print into nine squares. To add suspense and fun to the project, I sent each of the illustrators only their portion of the print with a tissue overlay showing connecting lines to adjacent squares."
Colin Campbell, a copywriter in Santa Barbara, provided the final phase of the promotion, a nine-part detective story integrating the insects and relating to the visual elements in each picture segment.
The plot involves a James Bond type villain named Grasseaux who is going to become the leader of the world in a "new dawn of happiness" by bringing an end to new ideas. He is going to do this with genetically modified bugs that detect, feed upon and destroy new ideas. His starting point is the world of graphics and advertising which he will reach through "The Creativity Bowl," a competition with a first prize of a 100-ounce cube of gold awarded in an evening television extravaganza.
The key to his plan is second prize, which he will send to every entrant. It is a hollow cube of brass. Inside are mutant maggots which will feed on ideas and mature into the insects that will destroy all new ideas.
Laced with suspense and violence, the story leads Mortensen to a Los Angeles warehouse filled with the brass cubes. He has gained possession of Grasseaux's special laser pistol (the villain is apparently as bright as he is mean) and Grasseaux releases the insects to attack the designer who discovers the gun is powered by new ideas. Mortensen destroys the insects and then the special laser pistol.