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ADVERTORIAL: The science of letterbox sampling

unnamed-5Some marketers have been quick to jump on the ‘Virtual Reality’ (VR) 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 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 says, “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.

(Source: Salmat Actual Reality Whitepaper, 2015)

Collister recently worked with customer marketing and engagement specialist Salmat to compile a white paper 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.


When it comes to FMCG, consumers tend to stick to their ‘tried and tested’ products that they buy routinely.

So, when Sorbent launched their premium “Clean & Fresh” toilet wipes, they encouraged consumers to break away from their norm and try something different by sending out samples. They sent more than 350,000 samples to females in NSW and Queensland who had an individual income of $70,000 and spent more on hygiene products.


While the results of the campaigns are proprietary, they were extremely positive, resulting in a long- lasting relationship between Salmat and the brands. It has also fostered many more with 100s of FMCG brands fulfilling and distributing their product samples through Salmat.

Capturing the imagination

However, Letterbox Sampling can do so much more than just encourage the trial of a product.

Take this example from Scotch. The brand designed its Magic Tape to be invisible, so a special sample package was created to demonstrate this – it made the tape itself magically disappear.

The box had a clear window on the front with “Magic Tape” written on it, but when you looked through the window, the box appeared to be empty. Inside the box was a specially designed ultra-thin mirror that created the illusion.

The rolls of tape were cleverly hidden behind the mirror. This is a fantastic example of how a Letterbox sampling campaign can capture the imagination.


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.

Questions to ask when considering a letterbox sampling campaign

  • Will your product or service benefit from a sampling program?
  • How many houses will you want to send the sample to?
  • How will you target your samples?
  • How big will your sample be?
  • When is the right time to send the sample?
  • How much will it cost to create and send your samples?
  • How will the Letterbox Sampling campaign be integrated with other promotional channels?
  • How will you measure the results of your sample campaign?

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