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Friday, May 20, 2005

Junk Mail 101: What's In A Name...Your Name?

It was called junk mail for all of the thirty-five years I was in the business. It gets that title from the shotgun effect of loading up your mailbox with unwanted advertising. To do this, the junk mailers must purchase billions of names each year. I was one of their sources, a former list peddler, huckster of your name, purveyor of the personal information you readily gave up or that was scrounged from a multitude of sources. Until I realized a simple fact.

I was selling something that really did not belong to me or the people for whom I worked. We were taking a product, your name, which was essentially a by-product in the act of your buying something or requesting information from a junk mailer, and benefiting from this act without your permission. In most cases you probably didn’t even know that it was happening. Certainly you had no concept of the real value of your name. That is, until now.

In September, 1990, the rap group, 2 Live Crew’s Luther “Luke Skyywalker” Campbell, who had borrowed his moniker from Star Wars, and was known for his explicit song lyrics, was forced to pay director George Lucas a $300,000 out-of-court settlement for defaming his “moral wholesome” character Luke Skyywalker. That’s show biz but you get the drift on the true value of a name.

Huge databases have been built resulting in dossiers being established on most American households. Non-junk mail companies have entered the arena, starting to market your name and the personal data they have compiled on you. Legislation has passed that makes it easy for government agencies to pry further into our lives by obtaining private information from these database dossiers.

The legal profession’s Black’s Law Dictionary has a listing: “legal name,” as applying to the individual. The connotation is there is something officially legitimate about a person’s name. Continuing, the reference work says: “It is the distinctive characterization in words by which one is known and distinguished from others…” I am not an attorney but this leads me to the conclusion that our name, particularly when attached to a unique address and personal information, is sacrosanct.

The junk mailers—and eventually the lawmakers—have to face up to the fact that a person’s name is a form of media, comparable to newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. The latter charge handsomely for their communications medium. Junk mailers, on the other hand, are selling a by-product of your intimate actions with their company, while racking up sales of over $4 billion annually, with nothing going into the pocket of the name holder. It’s the only business I know where the profit margin is 60%. So, as the custodian, shouldn’t you share in these profits?

To illustrate the magnitude of this, I picked the top 10 metropolitan areas in the U.S. to demonstrate the impact of the money being made from your name and personal data. They are:

New York, NY
Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA
Chicago, IL
Boston-Worcester-Lawrence-Lowell-Brockton, MA
Philadelphia, PA
Washington, DC-Maryland-Virginia
Detroit, MI
Atlanta, GA
Houston, TX
Dallas, TX

Ready for this? A whopping $823.8 million in list revenue going to the junk mail companies, each year, from just the top ten metropolitan areas. That’s over 350 million gallons of gas, with today’s prices. You could drive cross-country and back almost one million times. Did I make my point?

So maybe we should just stop worrying and learn to love junk mail. Shop ‘til you drop and let the junk mailers sell your name. But, in the meantime, join my grassroots movement to get this federal legislation passed that will give you 100% control. Like I’ve said in an earlier post, it could even supplement your Social Security. More on that later.

2 comments:

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