direct mail envelopesOne of the tell-tale signs of promotional direct mail is the use of so-called “teaser” copy and graphics on the direct mail envelopes.

Over the years, I have had many clients who have been reluctant to use teaser copy because they thought their mail would look too much like advertising mail (better known as junk mail – eek!).

Well guess what! If you’re using direct mail to promote your business, it IS advertising mail.  Of course, it’s only junk if the people you are writing to don’t want it or aren’t interested.  

But that has more to do with your list than with what you put on your direct mail envelopes.

Readers are very adept at distinguishing between personal mail and advertising mail. So no one (well, almost no one) is being fooled. At some point – whether you use teaser copy or not – readers are going to figure it out.

Your envelope may be your only shot.

Let’s be clear here.  You are, in fact, selling something and there’s nothing wrong with that. Why hide it?

We know that some or many people throw away their mail without ever opening the envelope.

That’s okay because we also know they don’t throw it away until they at least look at the envelope.  

Assuming your target audience would have an interest in what you’re offering (again the list), wouldn’t you want that offer to be at least seen by everyone?

7 ways to approach your direct mail envelopes

If you’re wondering what to do with your own envelopes, you have a number of options (and not all of them are good).

1. The corporate envelope – this involves simply using your regular business stationary – those #10 envelopes you already have with your company name and address in the upper left corner.  This is typically use for general business correspondence and many people use them for their direct mail promotions as well.

2. The blind envelope – this is a completely plain envelope with no copy or design of any kind. The idea behind this envelope is that the recipient has to open it before they can throw it away.   This type of envelope is not for everyone.  Even if it works, a blind envelope looks unprofessional which should be a concern for many organizations.

3. The tell-all envelope – this envelope puts everything out front for the reader to see.  It may include a description and photo of the product and the offer.  It doesn’t have room to tell everything, but it gives the reader enough information to decide whether to open the envelope.  I believe this is the safest approach because it leaves little to chance.  It is my favorite approach.

4. The teaser envelope – this type of envelope requires the greatest amount of creativity.  It doesn’t tell you what’s inside, but it makes you curious enough to find out.  When done well, the teaser can be a real breakthrough.  If done poorly, it can backfire and your recipient may never know what’s inside.  One of the best examples of a teaser envelope used the following copy:  “Your bank is hoping you never read a word of this …”  Curiosity is sure to get you to open this envelope.

5. The VDP envelope – printing technology has brought new creativity to envelope copy.  Variable data printing (VDP) allows you to incorporate the recipient’s name (or other personal information) into a graphic.  For example, you might have a graphic of a birthday present and within that graphic, you might say:  A birthday gift for Sally.  This will certainly get the attention of your recipient.

6. The see-through envelope – envelopes come in all shapes and sizes – and many come as see-throughs as well.  See-through envelopes leave nothing to the imagination.  Obviously, the inside components need to be designed with this in mind.  Variations of the see-through envelope are envelopes with large windows that show more than just the address box.

7. The deceptive envelope – you’ve seem them before – fake “Express Delivery” envelopes and “Urgent – Important Information Inside” envelopes and “Official Government Documents Inside” envelopes.  They are misleading and deceptive.  Their goal is to trick you into getting the envelope opened.  They may work but they misrepresent the inside components.

Like everything else in direct marketing, there is no way to know which of these direct mail envelopes would work best for you. You can eliminate some pretty quickly.  Maybe only a few fit your corporate brand image.

But as always, the only way to know for sure is to test.  Good luck!


Written by Bob McCarthy

This article may be reprinted without permission as long as the article includes the following credit: Bob McCarthy is a freelance copywriter and consultant specializing in direct marketing and lead generation. His website is He can be reached at 508-473-8643 or by email at

About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."