Papyrus Plus: The Evolution of Direct Mail
Direct mail: It can be a contentious issue. Its very name is a problematic euphemism to some. While businesses occasionally describe it as advertising mail, those who it targets tend to have a less flattering name for the stuff. But say what you will the ROI of direct mail has been increasing year on year for the last decade. Direct mail is a very real phenomenon and in today's business environment its relative merits bear close examination.
You may not find it surprising that such a practice has controversial roots. The earliest recognizable example of direct mail comes from the year 1000 BC where a wealthy Egyptian offered a reward in gold for the return of a runaway slave. His offer was put down on papyrus and distributed around the area.
Thankfully, we've moved on from such a grim application of the technique. Though it has been used for as long as ancient merchants could etch prices into stone tablets, the advent of the western printing press in the 15th century saw its full potential recognized.
The Impact of Print
William Caxton was churning out printed pamphlets to be distributed to consumers as early as 1480, and, as printing technology developed, so did the scale at which mail could be produced for marketing.
Direct mail allowed marketers to reach consumers directly in ways that weren't possible before. By the Victorian era, customers in rural areas and small towns who were previously at the mercy of unscrupulous local merchants could place their orders by mail.
This ensured they were getting the same fair prices for premium goods as those in neighboring towns. It proved so successful that one of the pioneers of this practice, one Richard Warren Sears, founded a commercial empire on direct mail that lasts to this day in the form of Sears department store!