Tomfoolery in the Netherlands

Should we feel sorry for Mr Johan de Boer? According to press reports in December 2003, the Dutch jeweller planned a highly innovative direct mail campaign, only to find that it had rather spectacularly backfired.

The story goes something like this. To mark the tenth anniversary of his business, the diamond geezer sent out 4,000 promotional envelopes to his clients. So far, so normal. The twist was in the cost of the mailshots. Mr de Boer clocked up a bill of nearly 50,000 euro, because some of the envelopes contained genuine diamonds. His idea was that clients would visit his shop to discover whether the gem they’d received in the post was genuine or a fake. If it proved to be the real deal, they were entitled to keep it.

Alarm bells sounded when only 35 of the 200 recipients showed up in the shop. A little informal investigation revealed that many of the customers had chucked Mr de Boer’s envelope straight in the bin, without discovering its contents. It seemed like a disaster… until the world’s media took an interest. Mr de Boer assures me by e-mail that he’s been re-energised by the large-scale press coverage, so I don’t think we need shed too many tears on his behalf. Indeed, I suspect his goldsmith’s business will go from strength to strength.

Might he have avoided the original mishap? The campaign was inspired, as it assumed – rightly – that everyone finding a sparkler would be compelled to seek a valuation. But perhaps a clearer message on the envelope would have been sensible? His letters apparently asked “Are you the lucky one?”, but I would have favoured something a little more direct. THIS ENVELOPE MAY CONTAIN A REAL DIAMOND, for example. I can’t help thinking that a timely PR blitz on the radio or in the papers might not have gone amiss either.

But maybe I’m just being clever after the event. After all, if that’s not one of world’s classiest direct marketing concepts, I’m a Dutchman.

© Phil Woodford, 2003. All rights reserved.

Phil Woodford is a creative director at a London-based advertising agency and a lecturer in advertising theory.

Read the original press reports at:


Sydney Morning Herald: