The Newest Junk Mail Hater
Let’s get this out on the table right now—I love junk mail.
Compared to spam—the ultimate time sucker—a little daily junk mail (which can be opened over the recycling bin) is dream stuff.
And. by the way, I love the term, “junk mail.”
Years back, any mention of the term “junk mail” in the media brought huffy letters from members of the direct marketing community demanding an apology from the offender.
When the great West Coast copywriter, the late Bill Jayme, was asked what he did for a living. “I write direct mail solicitations for magazines,” he said, “such as Atlantic Monthly, BusinessWeek, Civilization, American Heritage and many others. High-class junk mail. I call it ‘junque mail.’”
Jayme went on to say people love junk mail—and junk.
“Vintage car buffs love junk yards,” Jayme once said to me. “Antique collectors love junk shops. For a brief period, Wall Street had a love affair with junk bonds. Vacationers love to head for the Caribbean with a pile of junk fiction. And what would a Hong Kong fisherman be without his j**k?”
General agencies hate direct mail because it is accountable and for years have tried to persuade their clients that it is the ugly little step-sibling of advertising.
Junk mail—direct mail—is in fact the aristocrat of advertising.
Pankaj Shah’s Master Plan
Pankaj Shah is founder and CEO of GreenDimes, a company that is hoping to put direct mailers out of business by generating anger at unwanted mail and its alleged destruction of trees and damage to the environment.
One of Shah’s citations is the WildWest Institute’s statistic that 100 million trees are destroyed each year to produce 4.5 million tons of junk mail, with 44 percent of that thrown away unopened.
(For the record, more than 90% is thrown away unopened.)
According to the crawl on Shah’s Web site, he has stopped 1.6 million pounds of junk mail, planted 320,000 trees and saved $4 million gallons of water.
Shah—with 50,000 members and 16 employees—has a dream: to stop 95% of all junk mail.
Actor Matt Damon, who sits on Shah’s board, did the talk show circuit to promote the GreenDimes Web site. Included on his rounds: “Oprah,” who mails tons of junk mail solicitations to get subscribers to the magazine that bears her name.
“Everybody gets junk mail, and nobody likes it,” crusader Shah told The New York Times.
A Look at the Numbers
Stop 95% of all junk mail and a First-Class stamp would cost somewhere between $5 and $10—maybe more.
Because of junk mail, the United States Post Office is in business, reaching every address in America every business day.
Does nobody like junk mail? According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), direct mail generates $700 billion in sales.
That seems to me a lot of people like junk mail and happily spend money as a direct result of it.
When I tell people that my career was spent creating junk mail, more often than not the response will be, “I hate junk mail.”
“Do you hate catalogs?” I ask. “No, I love catalogs.”
“Then you don’t hate junk mail.”
In addition, nobody likes an empty mailbox. If I receive no mail (it very seldom happens), I get a brief pain in my gut. Nobody cares about me. My letter carrier is the one person from government who touches me every business day and lets me know the system is still working. Did he have a heart attack and die? Or is the system busted? Has the government run out of money? In short, mail is a good thing.
Junk Mail—Its Exquisite Efficiency
The DMA currently estimates that in order to generate $700 billion in sales, marketers will spend $56 billion on direct mail and catalogs this year.
That translates to every $5.60 in marketing costs bringing in $70 in sales—a glorious return on investment (ROI). The biggest expense is postage. Of that $5.60, maybe $1.50 is the cost of paper.
What about the destruction of trees?
Every paper company and saw mill spends a fortune on reforestation—planting multiple trees for every one cut down. The result, according to the American Forest & Paper Association: The United States has 20% more trees than it had on the first Earth Day celebration more than 25 years ago.
“Trees are a crop that must be harvested slowly,” said Rush Limbaugh.
And unlike toilet paper, paper towels, cups and napkins, corrugated shipping containers, computer paper, stationery, throw-away diapers, airline and movie tickets and shopping bags, the paper used in junk mail creates wealth and jobs.
Junk Mail—the Aristocrat of Marketing Media
* Direct mail is the most precisely accountable of all advertising methods, measurable down to 10th and 100ths of a percent.
* Contrast this with what the general agencies do—try to create awareness by spending millions of dollars of television airtime and space advertising (for which they get fat commissions) without a clue as to its effectiveness.
* Unlike spam, direct mail is the rocket science of marketing. It requires enormous skill and discipline for one reason only: the cost. At roughly 50 cents a mailing—and up to $1 or more for a catalog—it does not take much direct mail sent to the wrong people or containing a poor offer to result in rivers of red ink.
* In the international marketplace where theft and piracy are rampant, direct mail is the best secret medium to use for testing the efficacy of a new product or service. If you announce a new product in a magazine, newspaper or on television, it becomes public knowledge instantly and fair game for the world’s thieves and weasels that never had an original idea in their lives. They will steal it, manufacture it and sell it worldwide for less than your cost within a few weeks—or less.
* By contrast, a wee 20,000 test in four states will go unnoticed, as will the confirming tests of 200,000 and even 2 million. By the time savvy marketers have a fix on the ROI—thanks to judicious direct mail testing—they can go out via more direct mail, inserts, space ads, television, phone calls, the Web, billboards and skywriting. The market will be creamed before the rascally copycats can get an RFP out to their man in Taiwan.
* A consultant e-mailed me with the following question: What do I tell my clients who are upset when customers complain about receiving so many catalogs? The response:
If I had a store in your neighborhood, I would know when you are ready to buy because you would come in and make a purchase. As a cataloger, I don’t know when you want to buy, so I have to periodically send you my “store” to alert you about new products and offers. You are able to shop my catalog from the comfort and convenience of your home without spending money for gasoline or wasting time going from store to store looking for just what you want, only to find the store is out of stock. My entire reason for being is to be able to get you what you want and save you time and money. I am honored that you are a member of my family of customers. Thank you.
What Goes Around Comes Around
Twenty-one years ago some sensation-seeking jerk like Pankaj Shah dumped on junk mail, and I ran a column much like this one in Peggy’s and my cranky little newsletter, WHO’S MAILING WHAT! (now Inside Direct Mail). It triggered the following letter from Bill Jayme:
Apropos of your excellent defense of junk mail in your September issue, here’s another that we did back in the early 70s for the DMA when Congress was threatening to withdraw Third Class preferential rates. Change “dime” to “quarter” for that phone call and everything still holds, no?
I found the mailing Jayme sent me—a stylish and persuasive 9” x 12” personalized mailing to every member of Congress that contained a ringing defense of junk mail sent out by the DMA (which, at the time, was called the Direct Mail Advertising Association Inc.). It was written by Jayme and designed by his partner, Heikki Ratalahti, under the direction of [Chris] Stagg, [Bob] Dale and [Dick] Archer.
I am pleased to share it with you (see the images at the bottom of this page).
If people complain to you about junk mail, please share this with them.