Login for members

Connection for Action

By Ani Leroncig and Elissa Moses

The media landscape is rapidly changing with increased emphasis on digital channels. And yet more traditional channels such as direct mail are not being recognized, especially by new-generation media planners for their unique capabilities to engage and persuade. With an increasing number of advertising channels to consider, there is an opportunity to better understand the relationship between these digital and direct mail channels to best optimize campaigns—both in communication vehicle selection and in the sequence of their delivery to consumers.

This study explores how consumers respond to a number of digital and direct mail advertising channels independently and in combination.  The ingoing questions focus on creating a better understanding of the unique benefi ts and strengths of each type of media, as well as the goal of better understanding how channels such as pre-roll, display ads, email ads and direct mail ads work in combination. Canada Post sought to better understand the visual, emotional and cognitive impact when digital channels are used together with direct mail as part of an integrated campaign. Moreover, they also sought to explore new ground regarding how these vehicles may be sequenced to optimally maximize consumer impact with more informed media strategies.


Canada Post engaged the Ipsos Neuro and Behavioral Science Center to design a comprehensive research approach integrating System 1 and System 2 applications for a holistic view of consumer response to advertising campaigns within the context of channel(s).  The study leveraged EEG (with Neurons) for brain derived measures of arousal, motivation and cognitive load, eye-tracking for attention based engagement and a day-after email survey to measure brand recall and perceptions. A total of 211 respondents aged 18-64 viewed two integrated campaigns for two simulated retail brands - a Canadian home furnishing retailer and a fashion retailer. Within campaigns, the same creative, messaging, and offers were applied across each vehicle and optimized for the media presented. Included were:

  • Direct mail (personally addressed self-mailers)
  • Email 
  • Animated display advertising
  • Video pre-roll.

Within the study, 10 “media plans” were evaluated for each retailer. The plans included four single media groups where a double exposure of a media type was evaluated (direct mail + direct mail, email + email, display + display, pre-roll + pre-roll), and six mixed media groups where respondents experienced an integrated media exposure with both direct and digital vehicles, half with direct mail first, and a half with the digital execution preceding the direct mail exposure. Between campaign exposures, participants viewed a 10-minute Ted Talk as a distraction/ cleansing exercise. The exposure order was controlled by advertiser and media type. 

Care was taken to deliver a realistic media experience: direct mail was addressed to each individual and retrieved from mailboxes, email was sent to participants’ personal email accounts, display advertising was featured within a fully functional weather site, pre-roll was played ahead of lifestyle video content and the follow-up survey was executed 24 hours after media exposure to ensure capturing true recall and not just short-term memory, as activated by the research experience.


The study offered insight into independent media effects, campaign structure and media sequencing. It enabled us to quantify, under controlled conditions, the relative advantages of combining and sequencing digital media with direct mail for enhanced Attention, Motivation, Arousal and Recall

Independent effects: Media format influences the way consumers engage with brands and advertising.

  • Direct mail is an attention-grabbing format (118% more time spent) which drives strong advertiser recall (29% higher than digital), likely due to the personal, sensorial nature of the experience.
  • When opened, email effectively delivers messaging with off er recall on par with direct mail (59%), but higher than display and pre-roll.
  • Display advertising is noticed by few, and those that attend to it spend significantly less time (65% less) vs. other media types.
  • Pre-roll provides an exciting experience that promotes brand engagement, delivering the highest share of attention towards branding elements.

Combination & sequencing effects: Synergy exists by combining Direct Mail & Digital and order of media exposure matters.

Compared to single media campaigns, integrated campaigns (direct mail + digital):

  • Elicit 39% more attention  
  • Deliver a significantly more intense (5%) emotional experience
  • Drive 10% higher brand recall

Sequence matters, use direct mail after digital:  

  • Brand recall is improved by 40% when direct mail follows email vs. average performance of single and integrated media campaigns
  • Direct mail following display advertising enhances arousal (excitement) vs. average performance of single and integrated media campaigns
  • Motivation consistently peaks when direct mail follows pre-roll, outperforming the average of single and integrated media campaigns by 3%


This study advances our understanding of the ways consumers engage with and respond to digital and physical media types, and importantly how they work together like a well-orchestrated symphony. Various media types captivate consumers in different ways--e.g. some are better at driving excitement and others capture quality attention. With direct mail, the personal and sensory format uniquely connects consumers with advertising messaging that is highly emotionally engaging. This in turn leads to an amplified impact for brands. Understanding what each media channel best contributes enables marketers to best harmonize their plans for achieving optimally impactful communication strategies.

The findings from this study provide a new perspective on how media platforms can be combined for greater effect. It also puts a spotlight on the unique benefits and advantages of using direct mail in concert with various types of digital advertising.  Direct mail has always been recognized as hard-working and effective. It is now time for advertisers to take advantage of the visceral benefits that come from offering a 3-D communications experience in an increasingly 2-D world.

This article was originally published in the Neuromarketing Yearbook. Order your copy today