it may look like shit but the direct marketing peoplr really know and use every dirty trick in the book. when it comes to conversion rates they are the best. dealing with a different target group than the average consumer might require different visual style and somewhat ligter touch though
It's not that all direct marketers are good, just that it's a more mature industry which has done more conversion testing than us web folk have had hot dinners. When a failed conversion costs real money (in printing and postage), every increase counts.
The idea that direct marketers have something to teach us also probably spreads because it's counter-intuitive: you mean all those icky ads I grew up with were clever?
I've heard it from my friends that are Art Directors that the people working on high-profile direct marketing are regarded as the best in the field and earn a lot of money because they are good at what they do.