Public ire over “junk” mail should spur direct marketers on

I was lucky enough to appear on BBC Radio Wales last week. The producer of the station’s afternoon phone-in had seen my coverage of the deal struck between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) to end their six-month long dispute and felt me capable of “expert” insight into the world of direct mail, or “junk” mail as he unhelpfully insisted on calling it.

Russell Parsons
Russell Parsons

The finer details of the peace deal that was covered in Marketing Week and the subject of the phone-in was the decision to abolish the three items of unaddressed mail per household limit the Royal Mail had been restricted to.

Or, as per the premise of the phone-in and the utterings of the nation’s moral guardians in the press, the decision will lead to mountains of junk mail piling up in the homes of vulnerable, unsuspecting and helpless consumers while hastening environmental ruin.

My job was not to present the case for the defence as such but I was quizzed as to why marketers would continue to send direct mail, addressed or unaddressed, in the face of such seemingly overwhelming public ire.

First thing to point out about the change in rules, but not one I had the opportunity to make in the phone-in, is the decision will not necessarily lead to a spike in unaddressed mail. It will, however, allow Royal Mail to compete on a level playing field with the likes of TNT Post and grab a larger slice of the £500m market without necessarily inflating it any further.

However, reality has rarely got in the way of an opportunity for the good people of this Sceptred Isle to come forth and express their views. “Junk” mail has long been on a par with traffic wardens as a prime candidate for the UK’s Room 101. The decision to lift the restrictions previously placed on Royal Mail proved to be a starting gun for people to vent their anger about the receipt of unsolicited mail.

To return to the question I was asked during the phone-in, it is clear what the advantages of direct mail are – targeted, relatively inexpensive and accountable to name but three – but the level of anger that accompanies developments such as the one we saw last week pointedly illustrate the channel’s disadvantages: it angers many consumers.

The great strides made in database analytics and targeting need to continue to ensure that better prospects are reached, and there remains a huge responsibility on marketers and their industry representatives to ensure that accusations of wastefulness are not so easily bandied around.

More companies need to seek the PAS2020 certification, an environmental standard for the marketing industry that aims to target and reduce waste, to demonstrate and act like they are good corporate citizens.

And more needs to be done to ensure that consumers are aware of opt-outs such as the Mailing Preference Service for addressed mailings and its unaddressed cousin Your Choice.

Making prospective consumers aware of an option to cut mail out of their lives might appear counter productive, especially when mail volumes are in decline, but marketers and the Direct Marketing Association should look upon it as an opportunity to be left with the willing and bypass the reluctant.

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