The Five Senses & Direct Mail | Advertising to the Senses

The Five Senses & Direct Mail | Advertising to the Senses

A human side profile silhouette

The Five Senses & Direct Mail | Advertising to the Senses

Sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste: the five senses that make up the human experience and determine how we engage with the world around us. 

Ever since humans roamed the earth, our reliance on the senses meant the difference between life and death. Our senses help us collect and process our surroundings to form a complete picture. 

From a modern perspective, while we are not all hunting and running from predators, our senses still aid us in our day-to-day life. From the clothes we wear, to the food we eat, to the music we listen to – lifestyles are often based on our preferred sensory experience. 

The phrase “pleasing to the senses” is inferred as a positive trait, and for good reason. We tend to engage with things that are more pleasant to us. And while “pleasant” is subjective from person to person, it is safe to assume that we are often partial to items and experiences we deem pleasing. 

Not to mention, the things that engage with two or more of our senses do wonders for memory retention. There’s a reason why experiential learning (aka “learning by doing”) is a popular teaching method, as opposed to a lecture-based approach. Kinesthetic or tactile learners are especially perceptive to concepts when they include multiple senses. 

So how does this information help advertisers? 

Advertising with the Five Senses

Believe it or not, businesses are experts in using the five senses to persuade customers. 

Think of the average grocery store layout. Walking in, you are greeted with pleasant smells of the bakery or floral departments. Further in you are enticed with free samples and surrounded by pleasant music. You encounter lots of products throughout the store, all the while the lack of windows prevent you from seeing how much time has passed outside. 

While it may sound deceptive, these stores need their customers to have a pleasant shopping experience to encourage more product sales and repeat customers. By lingering in the store longer, there is a higher likelihood for you to buy more than you planned. 

Grocery stores are not the only businesses that use the five senses to find and retain customers. As previously stated, our five senses determine how we interact with the world, and this includes all forms of advertisement – in some capacity. 

Digital Marketing and Other Limited Mediums

Every advertising channel has its advantages in terms of audience reach, targeting, memorability, effectiveness, and price. But not every ad can appeal to audiences by using more than one or two senses. Radio, for example, can only be listened to. Display ads can only be seen, and TV commercials can only be seen and heard by the viewer – assuming they haven’t left for more snacks – or skipped them entirely. 

With the barrage of similar advertising content, it’s no wonder why many people develop a form of banner blindness. One could argue that these flashy images and intrusive video ads are an attack on the senses, when in reality it’s more of an attack on two senses (i.e. sight & sound). 

While not every ad NEEDS to use the five senses to leave an impact, utilizing more than two at a time is certainly helpful for long term memory and recollection. But something like that is impossible for digital media – at least until we learn how to download a free pizza sample. 

Relevant: What is Banner Blindness & Why Users Avoid Online Ads

The Five Senses & Direct Mail

Direct mail is one of the very few marketing mediums that can utilize the five senses, primarily because its physical presence automatically creates a more sensory experience. But possibilities are essentially limitless in the ways advertisers can use direct mail to leave a large impact on prospects. 

Here is a simple breakdown:


The first – and most obvious – sense used to observe direct mail is sight. Everything from the words and images printed on the mailer to the color and composition plays a role in how a prospect engages with a campaign. 

While most industries abide by certain design themes (think auto shops vs clothing catalogs) there are still a lot of choices that can go into how a mailer looks. And because there are no size or shape limitations, direct mail can take any form necessary to stand out in a customer’s mailbox. 

Relevant: The Emotional IMPACT of Direct Mail Marketing


Physical touch is likely the second most common sense that is engaged when interacting with direct mail. When prospects open an envelope, or hold a postcard, their perception is often reliant on how the mailer feels in their hands – such as thick/thin paper or a matte/glossy finish. 

Even including a gift within the envelope to increase its weight can pique a person’s curiosity enough to open the envelope. 

A Carpet Mailer Concept. Two beige sample carpet pieces are displayed with a company name and personalized message.

Figure 1: This rug concept is a great example of how direct mail isn’t limited to using just paper.

But one of the wonderful advantages of mail is that it isn’t restricted by the type of material used in its campaigns.

Because of this, there are plenty of avenues a marketer can take to increase user engagement.

Relevant: Direct Mail: Multiple Marketing Touchpoints


Sound, while a little more uncommon, is still a possible mode direct mail can use to relay information to customers. While TV and radio may use engaging dialogue or memorable jingles, mail can also improve its campaign ROI with sound. 

Many people are familiar with musical holiday or birthday cards, but mail can stretch the idea even further than that.

A pile of mail on a desk. The top opened envelope displays a green alarm.

Figure 2: Sector Alarm ‘An alarming letter’ (Image Source)

One alarm company installed an alarm system directly into their campaign mailers, so that the piece will ring once the envelope is opened.

Another more bespoke option is to use video players within the mail piece. These videos use all the advantages and personalization of direct mail and incorporates it into a unique visual and audio experience for prospects. 

An opened video mailer piece

Figure 3: Anderson Canyon Video Mailers. Custom video players built inside a branded mailer. (Photo Source)


One of the more underused senses in advertising channels is smell. No other medium – besides perhaps magazine ads – can utilize smell to increase brand recollection. Which is rather unfortunate, because smell is often a great mode for memory retention (known as the “Proustian effect”)

However, direct mail is well-known for perfume scent samples. But other scented products like scented candles, deodorant, and even scratch and sniff stickers are some of the many ways smell can be used in direct mail to increase campaign performance. 

A "Thank you" letter from St. Jude Children's Hospital with scratch and sniff stickers

Figure 4: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital “Thank you” Letter included scratch and sniff stickers for donors. (Photo Source)


Taste is likely one of the least used senses when it comes to advertising a product. Likely because it is the costliest to implement since it involves the consumption of a product. Other than food samples at a supermarket, not many other platforms are capable of advertising through a person’s taste receptors. 

That is, except for direct mail. Product samples can easily deliver to residences, and many people are happy to receive a free treat in their mailbox. 

A print advertisement displaying edible grape flavor strips

Figure 5: Audiences were free to sample the 100% grape juice flavor directly from the advertisement.

There are far more creative options as well. For example, Welch’s Peel ‘n Taste campaign advertised their 100% grape juice through small edible flavor strips.

Although this particular ad was placed in People magazine, the same technology is easily transferable to direct mail. 

Direct Mail for Your Business

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While marketing trends come and go, the one consistent form of advertisement is direct mail. Without the limitations of size, material, or algorithm combined with its special targeting properties, direct mail is a great channel to implement into a company’s marketing framework. 

And with the DK Solutions TargetList methodology, your campaigns can reach the high-quality prospects you need the most. Thanks to our revolutionary data modeling, we can build a unique customer profile to accomplish your marketing goals without the unnecessary clutter. 

Start your direct mail journey with DK Solutions by filling out our contact form, or by calling us at (855) 755 – 9008. Visit our blog for more information about DK Solutions and the modernized direct mail industry. 

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