First let's be clear that I'm not concerned here with the accuracy of Mr Miliband's letter to targeted voters. Nor with the inevitable appeal to emotions that goes with campaigning about health. And I'm not particularly picking on the Labour Party here - my party has committed the same sin.
Secondly I am - in so far as such things exist - something of an expert on direct mail having managed the mailing programmes for a large national charity and been Planning Director at a major direct marketing agency.
Let's be clear that scaring the recipients of your mailing is not good marketing. Even worse when you use what looks like an 'official' approach such as that in the Labour mailing. We should understand that people will open the mailing because they think it is important (you've told them that). The problem is that 'important' in this context means 'directly relevant to me'. And the Labour mailing (and the Conservative "mansion tax" mailing) fail on this latter point. I open the envelope only to discover a general message about unspecified 'threats' to 'your local NHS'.
What the Labour Party is doing here is deliberately deceptive and this is never good marketing. As indeed Labour has discovered:
‘I’m sure there will be people desperate for test results or appointments who will be opening the letter thinking they’ve got the information they’ve been waiting for.’
And so it goes. If the Labour Party wants to write to voters about health services then a much better approach would be to use to outside of the envelope to make some broad points - perhaps print some newspaper headlines about hospital or ward closures with a statement inside along the lines of: "Read Inside how Ed Miliband's Labour is the only party committed to your NHS".
This approach is not only honest but is also impactful - you know that the mail recipient reads the envelope while standing next to the recycling bin and you get the barest few seconds to engage enough to get the reader to open the mailing. You get a few seconds here to get you message across - the important one, in this case, that only Labour cares about 'your NHS'.
Instead the Party opted to con the reader into opening - some will be upset and angry but most reactions will be "pah, it's just a crap letter from Ed Miliband, not important at all" followed by it landing swiftly in the waste bin. As a result the Party has irritated thousands of people who thought the letter might actually be important and has upset a few more - some enough to get quoted in the Daily Mail (I'll point out here that no list is perfectly clean - I don't remember any large mailing where we didn't write to at least one dead person).
So here's so free marketing advice for political campaigners:
There's lots more (but you'll have to pay me to get that). Above all please remember that deception, misleading folk and duping them into thinking something is important when it isn't - these things are bad marketing. You may think you're being clever by getting people to open the envelope but that's a waste or time if they then go to the newspapers to complain about your deception.