The Current State of Snail Mail
By Denny Hatch
I despise the term "snail mail." It is a pejorative that denigrates all hand-carried mail—Standard, First Class and Parcel Post—as well as the dedicated men and women who deliver it. It is a far more offensive term than "junk mail."
My entire reputation was built on direct mail, the result of my wife and I starting WHO'S MAILING WHAT!—a newsletter (now called Inside Direct Mail) based on my archive of tens of thousands of direct mail samples.
In the Oct. 26, 2004 Wall Street Journal, staff reporter Avery Johnson wrote a story titled, "Cheap-Tickets Sites Try New Tactics." From the story:
"In addition, the big agencies—Sabre Holding Corp.'s Travelocity, InterActive Corp.'s Expedia and Orbitz—say they have sent or are planning to send letters to some or all of the leading search engines asking them to …"
Hey! The world of pure-play, dot-com companies does not trust e-mail when it has something important to say. They send letters—physical letters with live stamps!
When Peggy and I ran WHO'S MAILING WHAT! out of our home in Connecticut, I used to carry bundles of renewal efforts to the post office and stuff them into the mail slot. More than once, I stood aside to invite the person in line behind me—who had a single envelope in hand—to go first. Every time the person would say, "No, that's okay. I don't want my letter mixed in with all of yours." No kidding. People care about mail!
Who can forget the quadruple whammy Floridians suffered under Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne? Sitting amidst the wreckage of their lives, what did these victims want most? Ice, drinking water, electricity, food and the sight of a mail truck—the only conduit to their insurance companies and money from families.
Many years ago, the legendary copywriter Bill Jayme and designer Heikki Ratalahti created a mailing on behalf of the Direct Marketing Association that was sent to every member of Congress to point out the need for various legislation. Inside the large envelope was a giant die-cut mailbox. On opening the mailbox, a personally addressed letter to the congressman or senator flopped out. The headline: "Nobody likes an empty mailbox."
Think about it. An empty mailbox says something is wrong. We feel left out of the system. Did our favorite letter carrier have a heart attack? The soothing clatter of my front door mail slot every day is my one guarantee that everything is still functioning.
Recently, some nitwit at the U.S. Postal Service sanctioned Stamps.com to allow consumers to create their own First Class stamps containing a photo of their baby or pet. Suddenly, the drama and honor of commemorative stamps were hugely diminished. A number of people I've known over the years have been honored with stamps—Dwight Eisenhower, Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Langston Hughes, Bucky Fuller. It made me all the more proud to have known them. Then the wonderful TheSmokingGun.com created stamps with the visages of Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp, and war criminal and ethnic cleanser Slobodan Milosevic. Mercifully, this put Stamps.com out of business.
With the Can Spam Act and do-not-call laws, snail mail is once again the workhorse of direct marketing. And all direct marketers better learn how to write it, design it and find precisely the right people to send it to, or they will wind up in the same career ash heap as the smarty-pants, dot-com wizards of the late 1990s.
DENNY HATCH is a freelance direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He is the author of three marketing books and three published novels. You are invited to visit him at www.dennyhatch.com.