AI and Direct Mail: Part 2

AI and Direct Mail:  Part 2

Roughly a year ago we did a blog on AI and direct mail. Since AI is growing and changing faster than a Labrador puppy, it’s a good time to revisit the topic and identify more ways AI can help you create a winning direct-mail campaign.

More choices

When we tackled this topic a year ago, your choices were basically ChatGPT and the laugh factory known as Google Bard.

That’s changed.

Bard is out to pasture, having been replaced by Google’s new-and-mostly-improved AI tool, Gemini.

Perplexity AI is still around, but is no longer 100% free, and has ambitious plans to match the tens of millions of dollars thrown at it by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

And then there are a whole new generation of tools, some very specific in their purpose and some much more general. is a new favorite. It gives you results in one screen from four different AI tools – MistralAI, HuggingFace, H2OAI, and H2OGPT 3.5 – and the free version is plenty robust.

It’s always good in this fast-changing environment to have a consistent set of challenges for each new AI tool that comes along, so you can benchmark and compare.

A favorite is to ask a tool to strategize a campaign for a fictional product – in this case, Glass Rodeo glass cowboy boots.

When you do that with, t will give you four takes on the strategy in one place, allowing you to combine elements, pick and choose, and create a more custom campaign.

Do four takes on a prompt simply mean four times the mediocrity? Sometimes.

Several of the tools inside do an adequate job with the strategy part. H2OAI suggests targeting horse and rodeo enthusiasts, while HuggingFace recommends going after the fashion market.

H2OGPT 3.5 stresses segmenting the target audience, crafting compelling copy and designing eyecatching visuals – real Direct Mail 101 stuff.

On the other hand, MistralAI skips this step altogether.

As for the multi-piece portion of the prompt, most tools suggest an introductory postcard followed by a more robust piece, a brochure or a letter. The third piece is usually a thank-you card, though H2OAI opts for a catalog – but supplies some very un-catalogy copy for it.

MistralAI, on the other hand, suggests pieces that are normally components of an email campaign, not a direct-mail campaign: An abandoned-cart reminder and an enter-code-at-checkout mailer.

While it’s marketed as a tool for researchers, it’s not a bad writer. Overall, the H2OGPT 3.5 tool did the best job with campaign segmentation and components – but the beauty of is it gives you a lot to choose from and a lot to work with, in one place.

Google Gemini

After experimenting with most of the AI tools on the market, Google Gemini wins the award for best writer. Whether it’s trained on better data or just given more secret sauce in development, Gemini consistently turns out more usable copy than ChatGPT or its other competitors.

Is it perfect? No. Should you cut-and-paste it into your next mailing? Absolutely not. But it will give you solid B-level writing to work with.

Gemini still retains some wacky Bard DNA. If you ask it to come up with new and innovative product concepts, it will eschew the conventional and give you the “whisper bowl” – a smart cover for a food dish to minimize the sounds of eating.

But other than that, Gemini is a much more grown-up tool than Bard. Thankfully.

Image Generation and Editing

Here’s where things get interesting. Some of the greatest advances in AI are in image generation, giving you lifelike, royalty-free images you can pop into mailings, making them more attractive.

While AI-powered image generation has made great leaps, it’s still a work in progress. ChatGPT 3.5 remains fond of melted human faces and hands with 14 fingers. Ask it to produce a chart of North American birds or identify simple shapes and it drifts into la-la land.

And it still can’t spell.

On the other hand, ask it to produce a wordless logo for a business and it can do great things.

(Gemini, before it took its image-generating capabilities offline due to its failure to generate representative images, was especially good at this.)

If you’re looking for a background image, either a landscape or something more abstract, ChatGPT 4.0 can deliver the goods. It can also create accurate-looking but occasionally weird seasonal images.

Maybe the best things of all are the AI-powered tools inside the Adobe Creative Suite.

Historically, Photoshop and Illustrator have been as powerful as they are user-unfriendly. They’re not fun for people who aren’t graphic designers by training but occasionally have to do design or graphic work.

One of the greatest challenges for non-designers pressed into design service is removing the background from photos. In Photoshop you can ask its Firefly tool to remove a background and voila! More often than not the background is gone.

Note “more often than not.” If the background isn’t clearly defined, or if you give Photoshop an unclear instruction, you may get something truly warped. But keep at it! You’ll eventually get to a good spot.

Adobe has made no secret about its plans to use AI to transform the graphics space. If it does nothing more than demystify Photoshop, it will have done a lot.

Where We Stand

As of April 2024, the best uses of AI in direct-mail campaigns are:

  • To provide multiple campaign concepts
  • To provide basic copy that you can tweak to your specifications
  • To provide background and supporting images, and generate logos
  • To power and simplify image editing, especially for non-graphic designers

However, we need to keep this in mind about AI, as succinctly stated by J. Walker Smith in a MediaPost column: “I’m trying to get past consensus thinking, while ChatGPT can only report consensus thinking.”

If you’re looking to break new ground and shatter preconceptions AI won’t be much help. If on the other hand you want to do what your competitors have done, only executed at a higher level, AI is up for that.

As Smith noted, “AI technologies are rule-bound thinkers,” and most of the time in marketing we follow rules. By extension, that means AI tools can often be helpful.

However, when you’re looking to do something barrier-breaking, whether in direct mail or marketing in general, AI is only good for certain well-defined tasks.

The rest is up to humans. For now.

If you’re looking to bring some human-powered innovation to your direct-mail, contact us. We have the people who can help.

By Jim Felhofer  – 4/17/24

Copyright by JHL Digital Direct. All rights reserved.

Copyright by JHL Digital Direct. All rights reserved.