Case Study: Message in a Bottle Delivers Extraordinary Results

Imagine that you’ve been in direct marketing for twenty years and you think you’ve already seen everything there is to see. Then, a client shows you something and your jaw hits the floor. They ask if you can help them. Still reeling, you reply, “Oh yes. When can we start?”

The marriage of physical presence and unbridled creativity usually delivers extraordinary direct marketing results. Yet physical presence and impact can cost money, and sometimes a lot of money. As I looked at the package I had been given, I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback by the obvious expense. We had never mailed anything quite like this before. Still, I was assured that this had worked when tested in smaller quantities, delivering a solid return on investment.

A Return to the Desert Island

The concept went back to Robison Crusoe’s message in a bottle, and full credit must be given to our client, Atria Networks (who have since been acquired by Rogers Business Solutions), and their agency, Copp Communications, for masterminding this project. The concept was that the bottle, cork and all, was coming from the woeful “Island of Downtime”, and a beleaguered network administrator, “Greg”,  whose IT system had failed. The letter itself was formulated as a warning to other network and IT specialists, urging them to safeguard themselves against inferior network technologies with intermittent service interruptions or, worse yet, catastrophic failures and prolonged downtime. Excellent creative! The letter included a link to a 60 sec animation of the perils of Greg on the Island of Downtime and encouraged prospects to contact the company and be entered into a draw to win a travel voucher.

Resolving Breakage and Shipping Concerns

The client had tested the direct mail strategy using local couriers to hand deliver unpackaged bottles directly to prospects with great success and wanted to expand and increase the volume of bottles being delivered. This presented us with two challenges, packaging and shipping.

We were delighted when we came across a solution that not only looked good, but which also provided the utmost protection for the bottle. A wine bottle shipping box with interior bottle support coupled with rolling the bottle in bubble wrap, provided secure and safe packaging. Quality control’s attempts at breaking the bottle by throwing it as hard as possible against a concrete floor proved futile. The client shipped over 14,000 bottles and there were simply no broken bottles!

With the packaging resolved, we then turned our attention to delivery options. When considering both cost and delivery times, Canada Post made the most sense, and we were pleased to share our high volume parcel rates with the client.

Tying Up Some Loose Ends

As odd as it may seem, rolling a letter tightly enough so that it will come out of the mouth of a bottle as easily as it drops in is not a simple as you might think. Additionally, to complete the creative effect, we were to tie a piece of jute cord around the letter once rolled. Of course, trying to hold the rolled letter and tie the cord is not that easy either. We solved this challenge by rolling the letters tightly around a small dowel on a custom-built, sloped frame. Once rolled, we were able to use, of all things, the tiny elastics that orthodontists use on braces, to keep the letter tightly rolled while the jute cords was tied around it.

Program Evolution

At the outset, this was a two-phase project. First, the message in a bottle package was mailed to the prospect, followed by a personal call within a week of receiving the bottles. Bottles were shipped 500 at a time to ensure a timely follow-up.

We quickly discovered that there were two short-term challenges that needed to be resolved. First, the package was very plain and the only company branding was on the back label of the bottle on the lower corner. Very subtle; maybe too subtle. Secondly, not everyone knew Atria Networks at the outset. Given the foregoing, some packages were retuned without having had a fair opportunity to work their magic. To combat this, it was decided that a pre-approach postcard would be mailed out in advance of the message in a bottle package. The postcards introduced both Atria Networks and the campaign, which certainly minimized the returns. This also allowed the client to validate the deliverability of the address before investing in shipping a bottle.

Even with the postcards going out though, when the sales people called, they often found that prospects still were not connecting the dots as readily as they might have liked. To further distinguish the company and the campaign, a personalized follow-up letter was mailed shortly after the message in a bottle package was shipped—and after the sales person had completed the follow up call. Of course, the letter referenced the campaign and the bottle that they would have received, thereby helping to tie it all together for the prospects, making things much easier for the sales people.

So, what was initially a two-phase campaign was expanded to include four main phases, as follows:

How Much Did It Cost?

Before asking you to hold your breath, I would like to note that we always maintain that direct marketing is only expensive when it doesn’t work. In this case, it worked extremely well. The all-in cost for the first three phases, incusing all materials, assembly mail preparation and parcel postage averaged about $16 per bottle.

Delivering Messages and Results

The goal of Atria was to see a 2:1 ROI, for every $2 spent, to generate $1 in new MRR (monthly reoccurring revenue). They exceeded their expectations as the campaign actually returned $1 in new MRR for every $1.47 spent.

Further, due to the contractual nature of the business having an average 3 year term, additional revenues have continued to be generated via ongoing service billings. So, the investment was certainly worth the return that the campaign generated.


Message in a bottle campaigns are not for the faint of heart, nor would anyone be likely to launch one to promote weekend sales for fast food chains. However, if you really want to make an impression and are selling high-end items or services with ongoing revenues, a message in a bottle campaign would certainly be worth considering.

Lastly, like all great projects, these campaigns require a consolidated team effort. At these kinds of prices, you cannot afford to be making mistakes. Additionally, you will want to keep your eyes open to see where the program might be tweaked to optimize your results.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss this case study further, simply give us a call at 1-800-422-1309. We are here to serve. Let us know how we can help.