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Direct Mail Has An Image Problem
How do we know? 99 percent of Americans refer to it as 'junk' mail!
By T.L. Righter 29 October 2003
Uh oh! I just used the forbidden "J" word. Within the postal industry, using the "J" word (Junk) is like Canon employees saying they are "xeroxing" a copy on the copy machine.

But before anyone in the postal industry gets offended, and before anyone starts firing up their standard protest letter for using the "J" word, just hear me out. I have an important point to make that can help to save the reputation of Direct Mailers, save the Postal Service some unnecessary overtime and processing costs, and increase the value of the mail as a whole.

Direct mail (advertising mail) comes in two varieties. The first kind looks a lot like regular First Class or Secondary (Second Class) mail. (In fact, some of it is First or Second Class mail.) In many ways (paper quality, envelope size and quality, binding, etc.) it's hard to distinguish the more prevalent Standard (Bulk) direct mail from regular First and Second Class mailings. Many postal customers can't even tell the difference, a fact some direct mailers use to increase the effectiveness of their mailing campaigns. This type of mail is generally not known to the public as "junk" mail.

The second type of direct mail are the flimsy weekly circulars that contain unbound advertisements for grocery stores, rental companies, etc. You know the kind. They usually arrive as a mess in your mailbox. You pull the circular out and it's already in about eleven different pieces mixed in with your "important" mail. Sometimes it's accompanied by a marriage mail card that certifies it to the postal customer as "junk" mail. It's this kind of mail that is giving direct mail a bad name and prompting calls for a do-not-mail list modeled after the recently enacted do-not-call list.

This second type of direct mail, known to most Americans as "junk" mail, is a bane to both many letter carriers and postal customers. For letter carriers and the USPS, it usually means overtime payments for the time spent grappling with the flimsy mailings. True, the Postal Service comes out ahead by delivering such mailings, and the Postal Service and its employees should be grateful for such mailings. But it's the reaction of the public that is troubling. Some postal customers greet the mailings with expletives - words much worse than the term "junk." Some ask "how can I stop this f*@#*ing sh*t," - I've heard such phrases many times. Many customers throw the direct mail directly away - as in direct to the trash can. In fact, many apartment complexes have a handy trash can available so postal customers can do just that!

A do-not-mail list would have a devastating impact on the entire postal industry. Currently, direct mail is on the increase, while First Class mail continues a steady decline. Direct mail is what is keeping the Postal Service afloat! A do-not-mail list would dramatically decrease direct mail volume which in turn would initiate price increases for all other types of mail. Moreover, direct mailer and Postal Service revenues would decline, while both would see increased costs in enforcing the do-not-mail list.

But before direct mailers find themselves connotated with telemarketers, there is an easy, simple solution - don't make your direct mail look like junk! Most direct mail is not even recognized by postal customers as such. It's time to clean up the rest of the mail.

In my city there are a couple of weekly mailings that are known to most customers as "junk" mail. They are printed on cheap, flimsy, unaddressed and unbound paper. But there are also a couple of direct mailings that have the same basic advertisements, but are printed on decent-quality, bound paper. It's much easier for letter carriers to deliver, it arrives in the mailbox in better shape, it's better received by the postal customer, and they hold the potential for the Postal Service to reap savings by reducing overtime costs and making such mailings compatible with current and future automation initiatives. Direct mailers, likewise, by increasing the quality of their physical mailings, could save their reputations and their livelihoods while at the same time increasing the value of their products.


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