Before Coles stops using printed catalogues they should look to Domino’s for guidance…

This week a marketing clerk at Coles made the ridiculous decision to stop using one of its most powerful media channels for retailers – printed catalogues. For international readers, unaddressed catalogues distributed via letterboxes, are one of the strongest generators of retail store and online traffic in Australia.

Coles catalogues

The reasons given by the clerk were ridiculous to say the least and naively woke – and Coles has rightly copped a backlash from both consumers and industry.

There is no basis to the Coles sustainability argument around paper usage, as explained by Kellie Northwood CEO of The Real Media Collective in her comments in Mumbrella. While Simon Lane, Country Manager at Ricoh, succinctly demonstrated how consumers are behaving, in this post yesterday.

The physical is always more powerful than the virtual as I explained here years ago. After all, would you prefer a real or a virtual kiss?

The science of the emotional power of paper over digital channels has been proven. It has to do with how direct mail for example, makes the content more real to the brain and better connected to memory by engaging with its spatial memory networks. The material generated more activity in the area of the brain associated with the integration of visual and spatial information (the left and right parietals) and the processing of information in relation to the body.

You can download Millward Brown’s research on this topic here.

Though, I’ve learned through testing, that the best results come from a combination of both print and digital channels. You need to continually test to work out the best combinations.

I suspect Coles has never run a split-run test to see what media channels work best. They’ve never isolated stores and distributed a catalogue in one catchment area and not distributed a catalogue around another store, to prove the best media usage. They certainly didn’t claim so in the announcement about their decision.

Once again the marketing clerks are letting opinions not facts govern their decisions – a sad reflection on the industry.

Which brings me to Domino’s…

Don Meij is the CEO and Managing Director of Domino’s Pizza Enterprises. He is also one of the most successful business executives in Australia and one of the highest paid. I had the privilege of interviewing him for my book a couple of years ago.

He revealed that Domino’s rushed to ‘save money’ by reducing the volume of its unaddressed letterbox marketing collateral. Domino’s distributes leaflets, booklets and other printed collateral to sell pizzas. Domino’s had launched its app and wanted to migrate customers to using the app for orders.

The result of this decision was an immediate drop in sales. So Domino’s reverted to using letterbox leaflets again. Over time, the Domino’s app has changed the way many customers place their order. Instead of using the phone to talk, they use the phone to tap. And once a customer downloads the app they use it more often to place home-delivered orders. But many still use the letterbox offers before ordering.

Domino’s realised the best marketing results come from testing and using a combination of media channels. Let the market prove the media you should use – not the marketing clerks.

Interestingly, my local pizza owner – he’s from Calabria –  had to close his dine-in service during lock-down. He doesn’t have a website. So he printed a letterbox leaflet and distributed it in his catchment area. He offered a discount for pick-up. I’ve used the offer almost weekly and love chatting with the husband and wife team as I await my order. We are after all, social creatures. He said the leaflet saved his business.

And only last month Coles biggest competitor Woolworths did a mass-distribution of its loyalty cards in a clear plastic envelope in suburban letterboxes, to attract new customers.

Woolies use letterbox distribution to sell loyalty cards

In the statement about the catalogue decision, the Coles marketer said, “we are living at a time of unprecedented societal change…” and it’s true. Consider what’s happened during the pandemic:

  • Record sales of books as people have more time to read
  • Record sales of jigsaw puzzles as families return to ‘traditional’ tactile activities
  • Record sales of vegetable seedlings and chickens as families grow their own food
  • Return to direct mail communications as the personal and physical media are more trusted during these troubled times
  • Record sales of home-delivered products – because there is no other way to buy them as stores are closed

Of course, the volume of mail and unaddressed catalogues is less than a few years ago, just as radio and TV audiences have declined and digital marketing channels struggle to be successful. As consumers, we have way too many channels to use, making it harder for marketers to instinctively know what works and what doesn’t. Hence we need to go back to basics and follow the rules.

There are two simple rules to success in marketing:

Rule 1 – Always Test

Rule 2 – See Rule 1

The pandemic has revealed some massive weaknesses in marketing – with poor quality decisions being made by unqualified marketing clerks.

Let’s hope the ‘new normal‘ brings back a semblance of commonsense and let the facts, not woke virtue signaling, drive marketing decisions…


  1. Great post, Dan. As someone who plied their trade in direct mail for many years, I’m a firm believer that this channel should be thriving, not dying. Pity how narrow-minded most marketers are these days.

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