The power of nothingness in marketing

There was a project about 10 years ago called the “This page is intentionally left blank” project.

Surprisingly it was not an art project, it was part IT, part subversive reactionary and part recidivist.  At least that is my interpretation.  This is my blog after all.

It seems to have gained some significant traction but then lost its way as the ‘IT super-highway’, as it was called then, really took off.

In short it set out to recreate those blank pages that we all used to see, usually in training manuals, that said “this page is intentionally left blank”.  Pitched as being for your (doodles or) notes in most cases.


The project attempted to reintroduce these across web sites.  In order to offer ‘Internet wanderers’ I quote; “ … a place of quietness and simplicity on the over crowded world-wide web – a blank page for relaxing the restless mind.”  A noble thought.  By 2004 the project was unable to cope with the demand and had to delay its own website launch.  It seemed to strike a chord.

I have two related business challenges at present and this project came into my mind, and as often happens you find something else that has about it, a similar insight…

I re-read an inspiring direct mail case study that lives in this same space.  Zürich Insurance wished to reconnect with customers who had opted out of receiving marketing communications.  The challenge it set before its direct marketing agency was simply to get people to tick the little box that allows Zürich to talk to them again.

Zürich managed to achieve a stunning uptake … why … great direct marketing for sure, but it had at its heart the consumers love affair with simplicity and the blank space.

Customers were simply sent a blank letter.

No messages selling anything, no copy to convince them of the error of their ways, just a simple clean letter with a signature on it.  Attached to this blank letter was a card that said;

“Actually we have lots to tell you about.  But we can’t say anything until you tick this box”

And that was it.  Simple, but stunningly so.  The case study can be found here, I would recommend it.

One challenge I am working on is how can I, in 2013, improve my direct mail response rates and how can I challenge my Agencies to help me do just that.  I am reminded of customer research that tells me the way to improve the open rates on direct mail is to use a plain blank envelope.

white envelope

So, does all this thinking about blanks help (no jokes about firing blanks please !)?

I think it tells me that I can take inspiration from others in the sense that if I do a few simple things well I may well achieve greater cut through by managing to provide that ‘quiet place’ in a world that is even more noisy than in 2003 when the project started.  Customers might just like that different approach.

My second challenge is different, but the same principles will see me through I think.

My new buzzwords then;

  • Keep the outers clean and white
  • Keep the messages short and simple
  • Keep the objectives simple and make them very clear
  • Try and let the customer proposition breathe and do the work for us.

I will let you know how I get on !

As ever I would love your comments, add a few if you get a minute


6 Dec 2012

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4 thoughts on “The power of nothingness in marketing

  1. Mary says:

    this comment is intentionally left blank

  2. James says:

    Why not try a variation on the Zurick idea….
    “Tick this box and let us tell you about one of the most ethical companies out there”…

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