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Junk mail: The good and the bad

November 12, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

Junk mail.

The U.S. Postal Service doesn't like that term, while many people just don't like getting it.

With the holidays approaching and several elections having just ended, there seemed to be even more junk mail - though some local residents said they didn't consider political campaign mailings junk.

According to the U.S. Postal Service, 57.9 percent of households in fiscal year 2005 wished they received less advertising mail, compared with 30.4 percent in 1987. Nine people interviewed recently at Valley Mall in Halfway about junk mail said it usually ends up in the trash or recycling bin, sometimes unopened.

Gloria Taylor, 73, of Hancock, said she gets about 25 pieces of junk mail a week. Whether she opens it before throwing it in the trash depends on her mood.

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While Luis Bolton, 29, uses an e-mail account with a good spam filter and has been getting fewer telemarketing calls since registering with Do Not Call, he said he still gets two to three pieces of junk mail a day.

U.S. households received 17.3 pieces of advertising mail a week, compared with 15.9 in 2003, according to the U.S. Postal Service's Household Diary Study of Mail Use & Attitudes in fiscal year 2005.

Bolton, of Hagerstown, said he opens his junk mail to make sure it's nothing important and there's nothing he needs to shred.

Some companies "try to disguise" their junk mail by making it look like it contains an important document and needs to be opened immediately, he said.

The Direct Marketing Association, the trade association for people who use direct marketing, does not condone such disguised advertising and requires its members to clearly identify who the sender is, said Stephanie Hendricks, DMA's director of public affairs.

"We try to self-police our members. We've kicked out members for not following our guidelines. It seldom happens, but it has," she said.

Direct mail isn't just productive for businesses, it's good for the postal service.

Standard mail, which is all advertising mail, accounted for 101 billion pieces of mail and $19 billion in revenue for the postal service in 2005, according to its annual report. A lot of first-class mail also is advertising mail.

"We don't like to say junk mail. We call it advertising mail," said Patricia Licata, senior public relations representative with the U.S. Postal Service.

Direct mail is a $900 billion-a-year industry that employs about 9 million people, Licata said.

"What people don't understand is they might get more than they want, but it really is an education process. ... Advertising mail helps with consumer education," Licata said. Direct mail lets people know about new stores and services in their neighborhood, as well as sales.

Nonprofit groups raised $32 billion in charitable contributions through direct mail in 2000, Licata said.

And 143 missing children were found and returned to their families since 1985 thanks to the Advo Inc. cards that are distributed through direct mail, she said.

"Advertisers wouldn't be using it, if they weren't getting a response," she said.

DirecTV is one of those businesses.

Jon Gieselman, senior vice president of advertising and public relations, wouldn't share financial numbers concerning DirecTV's direct mail success, but "the fact that we continue to do it leads you to believe it works," he said.

While Melissa Langford, 46, of Hagerstown, said it seemed she was getting DirecTV direct mail almost every day, Gieselman said that's impossible.

The company only sends prospective clients one mailing a month, he said. Clients might get more than that as they keep them informed about the product.

There are third-party dealers, such as companies DirecTV has partnered with, that might mail people a bundled offer that includes a DirecTV ad, Gieselman said.

Direct mailings are more expensive than e-mail ads, but the impact from that type of advertising is measurable, Gieselman said.

The company selects ZIP codes based on different criteria. If the direct-mail campaign is profitable, it continues, he said.

John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who retained his seat in the Maryland House of Delegates with the unofficial results of Tuesday's general election, also has found direct mail an important tool.

"It's important. People need to know what you've done. You have to do that, you have to get your message out," Donoghue said. In addition to sending out his own direct mail, other groups sent out direct mail supporting Donoghue, mentioning his record with school construction and education.

He preferred direct mail over leaving voice-mail messages or e-mailing people. And Donoghue said he kept his direct-mail materials clean.

"I don't send out negative pieces bashing people. I send out informative, educational pieces that outline what I've done in Annapolis."




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