The Nation­al Asth­ma Cam­paign: Straws mailing

Exhibited by
Zena Carter
August 28, 2012
Medium of Communication
Direct mail
Target Audience
Awareness, individuals
Type of Charity
Health, research & policy development
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

This revolutionary pack, created in 1991, features an irresistible involvement device  – an easily detachable plastic drinking straw that readers are invited to remove, open and breathe through for less than a minute. 

It is a simple device that enables those who try it to experience what it is like to suffer from the breathing difficulties that are associated with asthma.

Creator / originator

Zena Carter and Cary Goode at the National Asthma Campaign (NAC) and Ken Burnett at Burnett Associates Limited.

Summary / objectives

The NAC wanted to create a cost-effective donor acquisition pack.


Cary Spink was National Asthma Campaign’s director at the time. She wanted to project the organisation as a dynamic, campaigning research organisation working urgently to combat the scourge of childhood asthma, which was then on the increase. This pack answered her brief precisely.

I joined the NAC (now Asthma UK*) in December 1989 as its first paid fundraiser. A staff member, describing his personal experience, likened the tightening of the airways during an asthma attack as ‘like trying to breathe through a straw’. He couldn’t understand why I got so excited!

Burnett Associates were planning the NAC’s first direct mail pack. I put forward the idea at an agency meeting with Cary Goode and Ken Burnett – and the rest is history.

The leaflet has eight faces, concertina folded to A6 size. The envelopes were hand-addressed, I think by NAC volunteers. We used the pack in reciprocal mailings, swapping part of our mailing list with other organisations – data protection laws were rather different in 1991. In one reciprocal mailing, with Botton Village, we generated a response of around seven per cent.

I’m delighted by the way the straws mailing is remembered. 

Dr Susan Kay-Williams, now CEO of the Royal School of Needlework, vividly remembers being the employee at Burnett Associates who organised the stripey straws. I mentioned the pack just the other day to a neighbour who runs a direct mail agency and she instantly recalled being on the panel that gave it a direct mail award over 20 years ago.

And now, out of my cellar, has emerged maybe the only remaining example of this remarkable mailing pack – returned undeliverable in 1991.

*2024 update: Asthma UK has now merged with the British Lung Foundation and together they are Asthma + Lung UK.

Special characteristics

The ‘bendy’ straws, each individually cellophane wrapped, were donated by the manufacturers, Tetrapac.


This pack achieved considerable notoriety and was widely copied by other organisations trying to develop their own equivalent version of the NAC straws involvement device.


This pack was rigorously tested at the time both in reciprocal mailings and with an array of cold lists, but no records have so far come to light; 40,000 packs were tested initially.


This pack became the NAC’s banker pack for many years.


This pack isn’t just an award winner, it is also demonstrably creative with its original and imaginative way of enabling recipients to feel for themselves what it’s like to live with asthma.

Other relevant information

June 2018 update:  Thanks to Richard Berry for unearthing and providing images 3 and 4, which now allow the mailing to be seen as it was, front and back.

* Richard produced the artwork for the original mailing back in the 1980s, when he worked at Burnett Associates.

View original image
The challenge on the front of the leaflet.
View original image
Inside the leaflet, a moving quote from a young boy who has asthma.
View original image
The leaflet in full - front
View original image
The leaflet in full - back
View original image
A brief explanation of NAC’s research.
View original image
The inside back page of the leaflet.
View original image
The back page of the leaflet.
View original image
First page of the letter.
View original image
Second page of the letter.
View original image
The hand-addressed return envelope – probably written by a volunteer.
View original image
The front and back of the undeliverable mailing – that, fortunately for SOFII, ended up in Zena’s cellar.