Ignorance gone to seed

My friend Lois shared a bit of Ozark wisdom with me a while back. Whenever the Trader Joe’s weekly mailer comes in it springs to mind. If you haven’t seen the Trader Joe’s weekly flyer, it looks like a throwback to 1865, one color, printed on newsprint, no images, everything the same size. But in all fairness, it does have a fun vibe and the copy is lively. It is so different that many people say it works because it’s so different. I’ll absolutely agree with that. Things that are different tend to stand out and get noticed. Being different is good. But being different, without testing what is working and what isn’t, is risky. It’s easy to admire the conviction as long as you aren’t the one paying the bills.

I love Trader Joe’s for lots of reasons, the weekly flyer probably isn’t in the top 100. I can hear the cry of “But it works!” Does it? Do you know that it’s the best it can be? Would a weekly postcard do just as well as a store driver? Would a more varied layout work better? Would giving more space to better sellers improve performance? Just because the store is doing well doesn’t mean the mailer is a driver for that success.

The Trader Joe’s flyer may be at the top of its game, I have no information one way or the other. I like Trader Joe’s so I shop there. But I don’t make any assumptions about its success because the flyer still looks the same as it did 20 years ago. You don’t know if it’s working. What if the owner designed the first one and still loves it? What if the owner’s kid is in charge and no one cares if it works? Don’t base your catalog or mailing’s design or marketing decisions on things you don’t know. Never trust your gut if you can know. And you can know. Almost everything in direct mail is knowable if you test. Postage, paper, and printing aren’t going to go down, so knowing is the least expensive path forward even though testing costs money.

Not knowing is ignorance. Choosing not to know, well that’s just ignorance gone to seed.


  • Janie Downey

    Hah! I agree on the TJs flyer. I read it once and now I pitch it as soon as it arrives. The same goes with other grocery store flyers/inserts. Old traditions die hard! Test, test, test!