Virtual Reality Can’t Replace Actual Reality, Says Salmat

Virtual Reality Can’t Replace Actual Reality, Says Salmat

Some marketers have been quick to jump on the ‘Virtual Reality’ bandwagon, using affordable VR headsets to bring a virtual experience to consumers. But Virtual Reality is just that – nothing can ever replace the power of engaging our full sensory array: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. In this, Actual Reality trumps Virtual Reality every time.

The unique proposition of Actual Reality is the delivery of something real and tangible. One channel that can deliver such an experience and engage the sensory suite in a tactile, repeatable, scalable and targeted fashion is product/service sampling, through the letterbox.

Most media channels cater for one or two of these senses, but it’s when the majority of the senses are engaged in harmony that product recall increases exponentially and you make a ‘real’ connection with your target consumer.

This sentiment is echoed by former executive creative director of Ogilvy & Mather and current editor of Directory Magazine Patrick Collister. He saud, “Traditional advertising isn’t as effective as it used it be, and as a result, brands are looking for new ways to create emotional bonds with consumers. Letterbox sampling gives brands amazing opportunities to create relationships with people. Why? Because it involves them through their senses. By combining creativity with tactility, letterbox sampling has the staying power other media can only dream of.”

The science of letterbox sampling

Research company Millward Brown studied the brain to see how it processes physical marketing materials, such as direct mail, compared to virtual materials presented on screen. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery (fMRI) scans, the study found that physical materials:

  • Leave a deeper footprint in the brain;
  • Involve more emotional processing, which is important for memory and brand associations;
  • Produce more brain responses connected with internal feelings, suggesting greater “internalisation” of the ads.

One of the biggest benefits of letterbox sampling is its ability to send something tactile that affects someone’s memory, emotions and behaviour.

  • Sight – 83 per cent of human learning occurs visually.
  • Sound – Our mood is improved by 65 per cent if we hear sounds we enjoy.
  • Touch – A pleasant touch releases a hormone that promotes feelings of well-being and calm, and a positive tactile experience can increase your mood by 29 per cent.
  • Taste – Just like touch, a positive taste can increase our mood by 23 per cent.
  • Smell – 75 per cent of the emotions we generate on a daily basis are affected by smell.

Collister recently worked with customer marketing and engagement specialist Salmat to compile a whitepaper of best practice letterbox sampling which features the latest intelligence on sampling as well as some fantastic examples of product and service sampling from around the globe.

Encouraging product trail

Letterbox sampling is the perfect channel for FMCG because it allows brands to actually get into the hands of customers.

For example, Head & Shoulders sent a nicely designed pillow package to 1.5 million households nationally with a message that was sure to entice:  “Itching to open me?” Inside was a handy travel-sized sample of Head & Shoulders so they could test the product.

Salmat worked with Head & Shoulders to carefully select households of women aged 35-45 in close proximity to specific supermarkets. While the results of the campaign are proprietary, they were extremely positive, resulting in a long-lasting relationship between Salmat and Head & Shoulders. It has also fostered many more with 100s of FMCG brands fulfilling and distributing their product samples through Salmat.

head and shoulders

Sampling beyond FMCGs

As the above example shows, letterbox sampling has been used predominantly by the FMCG industry. However, more and more tech and non-FMCG creatives have embraced the benefits of sampling for services, with great results.

The smallest Airbnb house ever

Airbnb wanted to raise brand awareness and understanding in China. The task was to reach out to leading travel and lifestyle journalists to create brand awareness in a way that would educate and excite them.

The company created a box replica of the very first Airbnb home, exact in terms of layout and interiors. All the miniature furniture was folded and glued by hand. Images of selected properties in popular destinations for Chinese travellers were placed on the wheel of a tiny projector thereby creating the world’s smallest screening room.


When the boxes were sent out, Airbnb received overwhelming positive feedback. The mailing achieved a 68 per cent direct response rate and 50 pieces of media coverage.

Lena Sönnichsen, Airbnb’s head of communications for APAC, said that the piece not only explained Airbnb’s background, brand and benefits beautifully, but also captured the sense of quirk and whimsical magic that the brand is always after.

Google takes flight

Closer to home, Google successfully used letterbox sampling to engage more agency people and digital professionals in their ‘Google Partners’ program. Google found that while a number of Partners had signed up, they had not completed all the steps to make the most of their membership. It needed to send a mailer to encourage these Partners to complete their profiles and engage with the Google+ community.

Google knew their target audience was time poor, so they wanted to provide a welcome break to the day, rather than more work. Mailing them a remote-controlled helicopter certainly got their attention at once because it was fun. But it also had purpose. Because it was hard to fly, you had to keep practicing to get better. That was a clear analogy with the Google Partners program: The more people put in, the more they would get out.

google salmat

The piece was mailed to 1,000 new Google Partners in Australia and New Zealand leading to a 26 per cent increase in completed company profiles, a 42 per cent increase in completed individual profiles and an 18 per cent increase in companies in the program.

It also has longevity. Long after an ad or an email has been forgotten, this helicopter will sit on a desk or a shelf as a reminder of the Partner program.

Sarah Pike, chief marketing officer of Salmat said, “These examples highlight just how creative and engaging Letterbox Media can be. Better yet, it can be highly targeted to ensure you get the right product into the hands of the right customer to solicit the right action. Letterbox sampling has been proven to stimulate brand awareness, customer feedback, product trials and long-term sales.”

For more letterbox sampling inspiration and advice, check out Salmat’s letterbox sampling whitepaper ‘Actual Reality’ here.

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