Stop Direct Mail!

closeThis post was published 12 years 11 months 25 days ago. A number of changes have been made to the site since then, so please contact me if anything is broken or seems wrong.

Typical junkmail.Image via WikipediaAnnoying. Wasteful. Downright useless.

What am I talking about? Direct mail.

Notice how that pile of paper you bring in from the mailbox (street-side, just-inside-front-door, wherever it is) is mostly stuff you bring in one door and out the other? Literally or figuratively, most of that mail ends up going right through the house and into the recycling (though sadly, some people – my dad included – just throw it away).

If one were to examine that bulk of mail, one might find that virtually every last piece is trying to sell something. From yard services to home-improvement solutions, dinner discounts to electronics, marketers just keep shoveling colorful, glossy paper into our houses, hoping that their message will be the one to catch your eye and result in a sale. Just think how much paper, ink, and energy that takes.

The practice is perfectly legal, of course. More legal even than telemarketing, since there’s no Do Not Mail List (so far as I know) to worry about. At the very least, any residential address is fair game. Spam is illegal, and all it does is waste time; but why is this resource-squandering activity still allowed?

I would guess that when it comes to direct mailers, the United States Post Office is perfectly content to live and let live. Excuse me for being cynical, but just think of all the postage marketers pay the USPS to deliver their paper-wasting missives! It also guarantees jobs for postal carriers (can’t say “mailmen” these days; it’s not politically correct) because the sheer volume of paper being sent to homes across the nation virtually ensures that every house on every carrier’s route will have mail every day.

So much for the government supporting “green” practices. What would be truly environmentally friendly, I think, is if the government changed the spam laws to allow electronic versions of direct mail, and outlawed the paper variety. Ah, but then people would complain that the government changed its mind and began condoning spam. There would be a difference, though: if paper direct mail is not paper spam, then electronic direct mail is not electronic spam. Logical? Of course. Acceptable to the public? I doubt it.

But I can provide further reasoning in favor of transitioning the massive direct mail industry to the electronic front. Consider: Every piece of paper mail that comes in must be sorted and processed by a person, generally a homeowner whose time would be better spent doing other tasks like taking care of the house or unwinding after a day at the office. When an email is received, the computer (in my case, a Gmail server farm somewhere) is already running many, many checks on the message to validate its origin, confirm that it isn’t spam, etc. Many email servers have filtering rules built-in. So by simply programming a few simple rules into their email service or client program, people could have interesting direct mail delivered to their Inbox and the useless junk (probably still about 90-95% of it) sent to /dev/null – all automatically!

To be sure, email marketing is still an emerging field, but an electronic advertisement is certainly more environmentally friendly than a paper one; and to be sure, consumers could be saved a lot of aggravation if digital logic could be applied to the sorting of marketing messages. So why not go electronic? I’m game.

While we’re at it, let’s examine telemarketing and consider the less-intrusive alternatives. I might also write about investment reports, bank statements, and other excessive mailings at a later date.

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I am an avid technology and software user, in addition to being reasonably well-versed in CSS, JavaScript, HTML, PHP, Python, and (though it still scares me) Perl. Aside from my technological tendencies, I am also a theatre technician, sound designer, violinist, singer, and actor.


  1. Melanie Broida

    Wow, how insightful! If only junk mail were subjected to the same scrutiny as junk calls! If only they were made illegal — think of the trees it would save. Think of the benefit to the environment. Think of the cost savings to companies (postage, ink, paper, etc). Advertising might be a necessary evil, but couldn’t it be done in a paperless method?

    Same goes for unsolicited investment and other business statements, annual reports, etc. Automatically mailing these materials just jams up the postal service, mailboxes, and trash/recycling receptacles. Couldn’t companies refrain from mailing such items unless requested? Post the information on their websites.

    Come to think of it, another pet peeve is Fed Exing materials from investment advisers and attorneys when simple mail will do. It’s considerably more expensive and the cost is simply passed along to the client in the form of high fees. Simplify, simplify, that’s my motto…

  2. @Melanie: Sounds like you could almost be a guest blogger here with opinions like that. 🙂 You know how to get in touch with me if you want to write a post about one of those annoyances you mentioned; it’ll be welcome.

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