The mailings that caused building evacuations, again…

Part 1

Earlier this week a PR stunt for a new video game resulted in the Bomb Squad being called to Ninemsn’s offices. Apparently a black safe was delivered anonymously to the publisher’s office accompanied by a “suspicious” letter which told a reporter to “check your voice mail”.

But the reporter didn’t have voice mail. The staff entered a pin code supplied with the safe, but it started to beep and did not open, so they thought it was an explosive device. You can picture the rest – or read about it here.

In 1982 we caused a similar problem in the security industry. I was National Marketing Manager for a number of TNT companies – one being TNT Security Guards. The (legitimate) security industry was union-dominated with high labour costs and the only difference between the different brand of security guards was the uniforms they wore. The pain of change was enormous and given the tight margins, the cost savings weren’t that big, so convincing prospects to change suppliers was not easy.

We decided the best way to demonstrate the strength of our security guards, was to demonstrate how useless the incumbent guards were. This turned out to be easier than we thought.


We conducted what is now called an omni-channel campaign – telemarketing, followed by 2-step direct mail, followed by telemarketing and a face-to-face presentation.

Once we had qualified our prospects by telephone, our sales representatives hand-delivered to each company an anonymous black box about the size of a small chocolate box. The box was handed to the security guard at the front of the building with instructions to deliver it personally to the security decision-maker. The security decision-maker’s name and title were labelled on the outside of the box.

tn_TNT Security Guards Outer

The security guards dutifully obliged and delivered the boxes to the decision-makers. Upon receipt of the box, the decision-maker asked where it came from. The security guard was unable to answer, except to say that it had been delivered anonymously.

When the decision maker opened the box the message on the lid stated ‘Seeing is not necessarily believing’ and inside the box an optical illusion included the message ‘What you see isn’t necessarily what you get’. Reflecting the lack of security that let the box be delivered in the first place.

tn_TNT Seeing is not...

tn_TNT What you see...

The following day our sales representatives delivered a similar box following the same procedures, except this box had a different optical illusion with the message ‘Looking closely at the facts makes sense’.

tn_TNT Looking closely at the facts...

By the time the second box was delivered to some companies, all hell had broken loose. In a number of cases our representatives were frisked or held for questioning. Our competitors rang us to ask what we were up to, after they had tracked the number plates of one of our sales representative’s cars. Some offices had even been evacuated while the box was investigated for explosive devices.

But we had achieved our objective – proof that the security guards were not providing the service they were contracted to do. How else could an anonymous box arrive on the security decision-maker’s desk two days in a row?

The day after the second box was delivered we telephoned the security decision-makers for an appointment. Prior to this campaign we couldn’t get past the secretary. The follow-up calls resulted in a phenomenal 86 per cent appointment rate, for business worth millions of dollars. A hugely positive ROI.

Interestingly, about 14 years later my agency was asked to do some work for TNTGroup4. We conducted some informal telephone research and discovered there were still some people in the industry who were around when the above mailpack was delivered. Not only did they remember the mailpack, they also remembered that it came from TNT Security Guards — testimony to the power of direct marketing for building brands.

Since 9/11 the practice of delivering anonymous packages has all but disappeared – though as proven this week, the odd young marketer who hasn’t studied history will still make a naive mistake.

In Part 2 (my next post) I’ll share where a senior executive wanted to stick a laser gun as a result of direct mail gone wrong. It certainly wouldn’t have helped my posture…


  1. Ha! Nice Omni Strategy Malcolm… Talk about “foot in the door” tactics.

    I’ll have to brain storm some other industries to target a “proof your current supplier is not on the ball” telemarketing campaign – got any ideas that won’t get us arrested? 🙂

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