AI and direct mail

AI and direct mail

Every marketer is talking or thinking about artificial intelligence – and if they’re not fretting over whether it’s coming for their job they’re thinking up different ways to use it.

For instance, the agency Zappi conducted an experiment where they let AI create the packaging and product descriptions for seven trendy new products from oat milk to wagyu beef.

The result? The AI-generated products scored the poorest of any of the products tested, which makes sense. If you’re designing products, are you really going to trust the process to a bot that can’t spell and is only trained to spew pre-chewed amalgamations of whatever it can find on the internet?

The truth is, AI is both more and less threatening than you’d think – more threatening in its ability to generate misinformation and perpetuate biases, and less threatening in its potential to take meaningful work away from humans.

It’s from that perspective that we’re going to look at how you can use AI to help you create effective direct-mail pieces (and not take your job away).

General applications

Even if we’re trained marketers we have weaknesses, so a general rule of thumb is to let AI tools like ChatGPT work on things we’re bad at or just plain hate.

Subject lines on emails? Perfect job for ChatGPT. Tweets? Same thing.

And if we’re not great writers, chances are ChatGPT can do a better job writing a direct-mail piece than we could – with fewer headaches, and in about one-tenth of the time.

Just for illustration purposes, we asked ChatGPT to write a letter for a fundraising appeal to be sent on behalf of the East North Waterville Humane Society.

Here’s what it came up with:

“Dear [Donor],

“As a valued supporter of the East North Waterville Humane Society, you know firsthand the impact that your generosity can have on the lives of animals in our community. With your continued support, we can do even more to provide loving care and shelter for the pets who need it most.

“Our mission at the East North Waterville Humane Society is to rescue and rehabilitate abandoned, abused, and neglected animals, and to find loving, forever homes for each and every one of them. We strive to make a difference in the lives of animals and the people who love them, but we cannot do it alone.

“That’s why I am reaching out to you today. We are currently in the midst of a fundraising drive to support our efforts, and we need your help to reach our goal. Your donation will make a direct impact on the lives of the animals in our care, providing them with the food, shelter, and medical care they need to thrive.

“Every dollar counts, and your support is critical to our success. Please consider making a donation today to help us continue our life-saving work.

“Thank you for your ongoing support of the East North Waterville Humane Society. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of animals in our community.


“[Your Name]

“Director of Development East North Waterville Humane Society”


This is not terrible. With some judicious editing (always recommended), you can have a fundraising letter ready to go in a couple of minutes, as opposed to hours in the pre-AI days.

Want to push the envelope? Ask ChatGPT to write copy for a trifold brochure for the fundraising campaign. In no time you can have this:


Front Cover

Title: Supporting East North Waterville Humane Society

Tagline: Your Donation Can Save a Life

Inside Panel 1: Title: Our Mission Copy: At the East North Waterville Humane Society, our mission is to rescue and rehabilitate animals in need, and to find them loving, forever homes. With your support, we can continue to make a difference in the lives of animals in our community.

Inside Panel 2: Title: Our Impact Copy: Thanks to the generosity of supporters like you, we were able to rescue and care for over 500 animals last year. With your continued support, we can provide even more animals with the care and attention they need to thrive.

Inside Panel 3: Title: How You Can Help Copy: There are many ways you can support the East North Waterville Humane Society. You can make a one-time or recurring donation, sponsor an animal, volunteer your time, or participate in one of our fundraising events. Every donation and volunteer hour makes a difference.

Back Cover

Title: Donate Today

Copy: Your donation can make a life-saving difference for animals in our community. Please consider making a donation today to support the work of the East North Waterville Humane Society. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of animals in need.

Again, not at all terrible, especially with some editing. And if you’re a one-person team and not much of a writer, this is absolutely game-changing.

AI the idea-starter

A favorite way to use AI is as an idea-starter when you’re tapped out.

One of the tasks organizations struggle with is coming up with a unique fundraising event. If everyone on your team is fresh out of ideas, ask AI! It may be the creative spark you need.

We asked Google Bard (ChatGPT’s wackier cousin) to come up with 10 unique fundraising events for UPSU, and it came up with:

  1. “Trivia Night for a Cause”
  2. “Art Auction”
  3. “Benefit Concert”
  4. “5K Run/Walk”
  5. “Wine Tasting Fundraiser”
  6. “Community Garage Sale”
  7. ” Staff Talent Show”
  8. “Charity Auction”
  9. “Fashion Show Fundraiser”
  10. “Dinner for a Cause”

So not the most creative events ever, but you have to remember that AI tools just reflect what they find on the internet. If the internet struggles for creative fundraising ideas, you will too.

And if you don’t like these ideas, hit the “regenerate response” button and get 10 more newish and only slightly recycled ideas.

Following the lines of an idea-starter for something you’re bad at, how about having AI suggest subject lines for a monthly postcard campaign?

We asked ChatGPT to “Write attention-grabbing headlines and 30 words of copy for each of five seasonal postcards for GreenWorld Lawn Care.” Here’s what we got:

Postcard 1: Spring

Headline: Spring into Action for a Lush, Green Lawn!

Copy: Say goodbye to winter and hello to a healthy, vibrant lawn with GreenWorld Lawn Care. Our spring treatment plans are tailored to your lawn’s specific needs.

Postcard 2: Summer

Headline: Enjoy Your Summer, We’ll Handle the Lawn Care

Copy: Spend your summer enjoying your backyard barbecues, not worrying about your lawn. Trust GreenWorld Lawn Care to keep your lawn looking its best with our summer treatment plans.

Postcard 3: Fall

Headline: Fall in Love with Your Lawn Again

Copy: As the leaves change, so do the needs of your lawn. Let GreenWorld Lawn Care keep your lawn healthy and beautiful all season long with our customized fall treatment plans.

Postcard 4: Winter

Headline: Winterize Your Lawn for a Beautiful Spring

Copy: Don’t let winter weather damage your lawn. GreenWorld Lawn Care’s winter treatment plans will protect your lawn from the elements and ensure a lush, green start to spring.

Postcard 5: Year-Round

Headline: Keep Your Lawn Healthy Year-Round with GreenWorld Lawn Care

Copy: Don’t let seasonal changes take a toll on your lawn. Trust GreenWorld Lawn Care for year-round lawn care services that keep your lawn looking its best no matter the season.


Are these The Great Gatsby? Absolutely not. Can they be turned into an effective campaign in no time, with the addition of some photos from a free site like Unsplash and a minimum of design? Totally.

AI best practices

AI is a fast-changing field, with new and more sophisticated models coming along every day. However, there are some touchstones to keep in sight as you navigate this new frontier.

Edit everything

Think of AI as a wordy college-sophomore English major. There’s always room to cut its writing and better ways to say things.

As a result, you should read over every AI-generated sentence. Make sure its voice reflects your voice. Eliminate words whenever possible. This will eat into the time savings you realize by using AI, but the process is worth it.

Trust but verify

If AI cites statistics or claims things as fact, verify the numbers and “facts.” AI is still incredibly good at making totally made-up numbers and statements sound convincing. (Google Bard is very bad at this. In fact, one Google staffer called it “a pathological liar.”)

Be wary of copyright

AI is derivative; that is, it makes new things based on existing works – some of which are copyrighted.

If you ask an AI image tool like DALL-E to create illustrations in the style of Bob Ross, you could run into trouble with Bob Ross’ estate and the firms that manage the artwork he created.

To avoid copyright issues, don’t ask AI tools to create content “in the style of …” If you do, you could be asking for trouble.

Be specific in your descriptions

If you tell ChatGPT to “write a letter on behalf of the East North Waterville Humane Society” you could get anything. If you want a fundraising letter, ask for one. If you want catchy headlines, ask for them. If you want punchy copy with a compelling call to action, ask.

Like your mother said, you won’t get anything unless you ask for it – so ask.

Direct mail is not inexpensive, and you may be wary about trusting your investment to artificial intelligence. But if can craft a better message, why not? Use the tools.

Want more ideas? Contact us and let’s talk.

(And by the way, artificial intelligence did not write this blog.)

By Jim Felhofer – 5/15/23

Copyright by JHL Digital Direct. All rights reserved.

Copyright by JHL Digital Direct. All rights reserved.