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Monday, October 27, 2008


What has always bothered me as a past direct marketing consultant and data broker is that junk mail doesn’t have to be…junk mail. There are ways to prevent at least a large portion of that 98 percent that goes in the trash to be eliminated before it happens.

One way is predictive modeling that identifies small geographical areas that are prone to making purchases through the mail. Another is an opt-in list of households that want mail, even screened further by the type wanted like apparel, food, electronics, etc. There is, of course, the do-not-mail list that could be enacted by the Federal Trade Commission, similar to the do-not-call registry that has been tremendously successful; which, by the way, did not put the telemarketing industry out of business as predicted. And now we have several states that are attempting to pass their own do-not-mail laws.

Newsweek did a recent article, “To Postal Workers, No Mail is ‘Junk,’” predicated on the fact that these workers are afraid any limitations on the sending of junk mail will cost them their jobs. Like telemarketing, I feel sure they will survive, although, perhaps, with a somewhat downsized postal system.

What is going on here is an event similar to the petroleum industry fighting alternative sources of energy, with all the subsets of businesses that would also be affected by a downturn. Junk mailings support a number of thriving suppliers that produce products and services needed to mail an advertising offer. Companies like paper mills, computer facilities, lettershops, and of course the list business, to name a few. They, as oil, telemarketing and the postal workers look only at their side of the dilemma.

How about the typical junk mail consumers numbering over 60 million households nationwide? It’s their name, their unique address, and their personal data that is being bantered about in the marketplace with little concern over its security. Don’t they have a right to say how that private information is used, and how much junk mail they want to receive? Of course they do.

With emphasis on profits—and list sales are a goldmine for junk mailers amounting to over $4 billion annually—the consumer rarely gets any consideration from the direct marketing industry or our congressional leaders. If “main street,” which seems to be one of the most popular buzz words in the current presidential campaign, doesn’t react in force and with organized efforts, it probably will never happen.

Most junk mailers refuse to spend the money for predictive modeling; some even still think it’s hocus pocus. The opt-in list was tried twice and failed, and the FTC isn’t likely to start a do-not-mail registry with the lobbying efforts of the Direct Marketing Assn. along with its junk mail membership, as are states not likely to get any similar meaningful legislation enacted. So what is the answer?

The public must demand control over its names and personal data that will allow it to decide what mail it wants to receive. At the same time, the junk mail customer should be paid when his or her name is sold to provide incentive to take on this new responsibility. In the long run this could increase the number of people using direct mail, and even satisfy most of the postal service employees.

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