Shiny, Smooth, Snappy, Scintillating, Sweet Direct Mail


Shiny, Smooth, Snappy, Scintillating, Sweet Direct Mail

Last year, Canon Solutions America challenged us to develop a high-impact direct mail piece that would articulate the capabilities of their new, next-gen sheetfed production inkjet press, plus give commercial print providers a real “sense” of what the press can do.

They meant it literally.

Using print as our medium, we needed to connect the benefits of innovative inkjet technology to the five senses—sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. And we needed to do it in a way that would grab the attention of people who actually make their living producing visually impactful printed products.

Thanks to imagination and some basic principles of sensory marketing and interactivity, it turned out to be a piece of cake (which we’ll get back to)!

Making Sense of the Science

Any project focused on the senses should start with a basic understanding of the essence and evolution of sensory marketing. As early as the 1920s, marketers began to see the value of creating emotional connections through the senses. The text and illustrations in print advertisements started shifting away from product pricing and functional features to more evocative promises of improving people’s everyday lives.

By the end of the decade, when radio captured the collective imagination and found a place in nearly every home, so did radio advertising. Suddenly, marketers could deliver their aspirational messages without the visual confines of the printed page. They could use sound to stir emotions and stimulate buying impulses—often with appeals to consumers that were designed to feel like the announcer truly understood their hopes and dreams. And, of course, there were catchy musical jingles—the first ear worms—that almost overnight became impossible to separate from the product and impossible to forget.

By the 1950s, television doubled down with both sight and sound to make advertising an even more multisensory experience. Yet it wasn’t until decades later that scientists and marketing experts really recognized how strongly the senses affect the more primal parts of the brain. Research studies showed that decision-making behavior isn’t based on rational data processing but on the emotions we feel. Now sensory marketing is an acknowledged scientific discipline defined as “marketing that engages consumers’ senses and affects their perception, judgment, and behavior.”

Putting the Motion in Emotion

It’s also an art. The influence of sensory marketing is often subtle. That makes it even more powerful. When it’s employed creatively and correctly, there’s less of the usual knee-jerk resistance to overt advertising. People are more inclined to perceive it as something special or memorable; as an experience or interaction rather than just an ad.

Nothing intensifies the impact of sensory marketing like pairing it with interactivity. Giving audiences an easy and immediate way to act on an emotion or personally participate in the exchange of information adds even more value to multisensory content.

Adding interactivity to print via the technology built into the devices most of us use every day is an obvious choice. There are a lot of exciting—and inexpensive—options available for connecting printed content to off-page information, even without all the trendy bells and whistles.

It can be something as simple as a hyperlinked URL or a scannable QR code. The objective is taking people where you want them to go without having to rely on SEO algorithms to get them there. The destination might be a landing page or an order form. Maybe it links them to a video or virtual tour. All are great ways of leveraging existing assets to facilitate a new immersive encounter.

Creating an Experience

So, how did we use our knowledge of sensory marketing and interactivity to create a cost-effective printed direct mail piece that grabs attention, embraces all five senses, motivates response, and showcases Canon Solutions America’s industry-leading varioPRINT iX-series production inkjet technology?

We created an experience.

After tearing open a variable printed envelope bearing this teaser, “You’ve never experienced inkjet like this before,” recipients discover a personalized note from their Canon sales representative, plus a dramatic collection of cards presented in an “Experience iX” belly band in brand red.

Slipping off the band releases the cards. Each one features a spectacular photographic image demonstrating the varioPRINT iX’s remarkable print quality, plus evocative text connecting to a single sense and key benefit of the press. Content on the back of each card presents data on the press’s capabilities plus an engaging call to action (CTA).


Easily the most saturated sense in print and in general, sight challenged us to start strong and stand out. We chose a remarkable image of a woman making direct eye contact, forcing people to stop and take notice. A QR code on the back offers the opportunity to see additional varioPRINT iX print samples.


Based on haptics—the science of touch— this is one sense that’s not difficult to stimulate with direct mail. Print is already tactile. Working within the confines of current supply chain challenges, we specified a mix of high-quality paper media for different elements in the direct mail, including various weights, textures, and finishes.


Since The Golden Age of Radio, sound has been a common feature of sensory marketing. But what can you do when you can’t have an actual soundtrack? Our CTA prompts printers to use their virtual voice assistants to connect to a video or audio message about the press.


It might seem strange to think of the sense of smell in conjunction with a direct mail delivery. But fragrance is one of the most powerful senses and can affect both how people respond to and what they remember about a branded experience. We chose to focus on a natural scent to represent Canon Solutions America’s commitment to sustainability. The card features both a fun pine-scented scratch and sniff sticker for immediate effect, plus a link to an inspiring video.


Here’s where that cake comes in! Taste is a simple concept, but it’s one that’s difficult to convey when you’re connecting with people in print. We treated the recipients to a mouth-watering photo of a chocolate cupcake on the front, plus a link to register for a Starbucks gift card on the back. Sweet!


In addition to the usual five senses, we also appealed to the audience’s business sense, including quotes from Canon customers about how they experience success with the varioPRINT iX in the real world, plus a link to the award-winning Interactive varioPRINT iX-series Online Experience , which we also designed and produced.

Delivering Impact

Beyond stirring our imaginations, the challenge of creating the Experience iX direct mail also stirred our emotions. We couldn’t be prouder of the result. The project recently received a prestigious 2022 Graphic Design USA (GDUSA) American Design Award and a 2022 MarCom Platinum Award for Experiential Direct Mail.

If reaching out to your target audiences with high-impact direct mail makes sense to you, the Street Level Studio team would be delighted to help. Just email Lexie, our director of sales, to start the conversation. She’ll send a set of Experience iX cards to the first five people who get in touch!