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Advertising mail, also known as direct mail (by its senders), junk mail (by its recipients), or admail, is the delivery of advertising material to recipients of postal mail. The delivery of advertising mail forms a large and growing service for many postal services, and direct-mail marketing forms a significant portion of the direct marketing industry. Some organizations attempt to help people opt out of receiving advertising mail, in many cases motivated by a concern over its negative environmental impact.
Advertising mail includes advertising circulars, plastic mailers, coupon envelopes (Money Mailer, Valpak), catalogs, CDs, “pre-approved” credit card applications, and other commercial merchandising materials delivered to homes and businesses. It may be addressed to pre-selected individuals, or unaddressed and delivered on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis.
Postal systems offer lower rates for buyers of bulk mail permits. In order to qualify for these rates, marketers must format and sort the mail in specific ways – which reduces the handling required by the postal service.
Income from advertising mail represents a significant and growing portion of some postal services' budgets, and it is a service actively marketed by them. In the United States, ad mail dollars decreased from $96.6 billion in 2004, to $80.9 billion in 2013. A study by Boston Consulting Group predicts that overall share of ad-spend in the USA will increase from 11% in to 12% by 2020. In Canada, addressed and unaddressed advertising mail accounted for 20% of Canada Post's revenue in 2005, and the share is increasing. Postal services employ the terms advertising mail, admail, and direct mail, while avoiding and objecting to the pejorative term junk mail.
The United States Postal Service offers a direct mail service known as Every Door Direct Mail, that provides resources allowing businesses to target, design, print and mail to specific households without needing to know the addresses.
In many developed countries, advertising mail represents a significant and growing amount of the total volume of mail. In the United States, "Standard mail: advertising" comprised 29% of all mail in 1980 and 43% in 2003.
Direct mail marketing
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Direct mail is a common form of direct marketing, and may be employed by for-profit businesses, charities and other non-profits, political campaigns, and other organizations. Direct mail encompasses a wide variety of marketing materials, including brochures, catalogs, postcards, newsletters and sales letters. 
Advertisers often refine direct mail practices into targeted mailing, in which mail is sent following database analysis to select recipients considered most likely to respond positively. This reduces costs for mailers by narrowing the mailing universe to only the most likely audience. For example, a person who has demonstrated an interest in golf may receive direct mail for golf-related products, or perhaps for goods and services that are appropriate for golfers. This use of database analysis is a type of database marketing. Alternatively, unaddressed direct mail may be sent on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis. Whether at the individual or neighbourhood level, direct mail marketing allows recipients to be targeted, attempting to match the demographic profile of the recipients to one most closely matching that of likely customers. Individually targeted direct mail may be tailored based on previous transactions and gathered data. For example, all male recipients of an offer may receive a personalized package with a man’s picture on the cover, while all female recipients receive a picture of a woman.
To the non-professional direct mail may seem wasteful, yet the medium can be one of the most cost-effective. Database targeting combined with an effective pricing, creative and list strategy can reduce waste and maximize profitable results for the mailer. Testing is accomplished in a variety of ways including A/B split testing of new mailings versus a control, testing lists through "Nth" name selects.
Political campaigns make frequent use of direct mail, both to gain votes from the electorate as a whole, and to target certain groups of voters thought to be open to a candidate's message and to appeal for campaign funds.
Certain organizations and individuals have become known for their prowess in direct mail, including in the US, the Free Congress Foundation in the 1970s, Response Dynamics, Inc. in the 1980s, the National Congressional Club, and Richard Viguerie. With the advent of the Internet in political campaigns, direct mail became just one of many campaign management tools, but still played a significant role.
Direct mail marketing is under scrutiny by many of its former and current advocates. The arguments against using direct mail marketing include possible impact on the environment and changing attitudes among consumers.
In the United States, the common practice of address standardization can defeat the purpose of advertising mail by stripping away local identity, thus leaving many recipients alienated. It is also argued that direct mail is not cost efficient. It has been suggested that social media will eventually replace direct mail as the preferred method for marketing communications. Those who believe direct mail marketing has a future cite its strong growth in 2011. It has been reported that large publishers like the Tribune Company and RR Donnelley have growing direct mail divisions. Nonprofit organizations continue to use direct mail at a subsidized USPS rate.
Business-to-Business mailings (B2B)
When targeted to other businesses rather than individuals, direct mail is known as a business-to-business mailing. Traditionally, this worked in one of two ways: as a direct sale, therefore precluding the use of a salesperson or a retail store, or as a method of generating leads for a salesforce. The former method was ideally used by products that were easy to sell, were familiar to the prospect and needed no demonstration. The latter method was used for large-ticket items or for those that needed demonstration, for example.
One method of direct mailing used in B2B is known as "bill-me". In this direct-mail marketing offer, the buyer is shipped the product prior to payment and then is sent an invoice later.
Several organizations offer opt-out services to people who wish to reduce or eliminate the amount of addressed advertising mail they receive. In the UK, the Mailing Preference Service allows people to register with them for removal from posted as opposed to hand-delivered mail. In the United States, there are several nonprofit organizations offering these services, such as 41pounds.org, as well as private sector alternatives like Tonic Mailstopper (formerly GreenDimes). Several websites critical of junk mail have guides for people interested in reducing the amount of junk mail they get, such as the Center for a New American Dream.
In response to a US Supreme Court ruling (Rowan v. Post Office Dept., 397 U.S. 728 (1970)), the United States Postal Service enables an applicant to obtain a Prohibitory Order, which gives people the power to stop non-governmental organizations from sending them mail, and to demand such organizations remove the consumers’ information from their mailing lists.
In Canada, the highly publicized Red Dot Campaign offers advice on reducing unaddressed advertising mail. The campaign focuses on advertising the Canada Post policy to respect "No Junkmail" signs, noting that this policy is not promoted by Canada Post itself. The name "red dot" refers to an internal marker used by Canada Post to indicate which households do not wish to receive unaddressed admail.
The UK Royal Mail also offers an opt-out service, though it sparked public outrage by warning that unaddressed government mailings could not be separated from advertisements, and those who opted out of the latter would stop receiving the former as well.
Several of the above organizations, as well as environmental groups, express concern about the environmental impact generated by direct mail.
In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 44% of junk mail is discarded without being opened or read, equalling four million tons of waste paper per year, with 32% recovered for recycling. Further, the Ohio Office of Compliance Assistance and Pollution Prevention (OCAPP) estimates that 250,000 homes could be heated for a single day's junk mail (70,000,000,000,000/3 btus of energy or 28,870,000,000/21 kWh of energy).
In the UK, the Minister of State responsible for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimated that "direct mail and promotions" accounted for between 500,000 and 600,000 tonnes of paper in 2002, with 13% being recycled. The government and the Direct Marketing Association (UK) together agreed on recycling targets for the direct mail industry, including a goal of 55% by 2009, though the DMA's latest estimates are that the industry will fall well short of this mark.
The CO2 emissions from 41 pounds of advertising mail received annually by the average US consumer is about 47.6 kilograms (105 pounds) according to one study. The loss of natural habitat potential from the 41 pounds of advertising mail is estimated to be 36.6 square metres (396 square feet). Mike Berners-Lee estimates that receiving five letters per day plus two printed catalogs per week results in 480 kilograms (1,060 lb) CO2e per year.
Recipients may conceive of advertising mail as a privacy problem, both because its generation requires extensive collection and use of information, and because receipt of mail can be an intrusion into the home. Numerous public opinion polls have found that Americans find advertising mail intrusive, for instance, in June 2003, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 19 percent of Americans found, "junk mail delivered by the postal service" a very big intrusion and 33 percent found it to be a big intrusion. Researchers at the University of California recently found that four out of five Americans favor a do-not-mail law, similar to the existing do-not-call telemarketing registry.
- "Direct mail", Merriam-Webster Online, 2008
- "Junk mail", Merriam-Webster Online, 2008
- "Canada Post - Unaddressed Admail". Archived from the original on 2008-02-20. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
- See e.g. "Royal Mail - Reach your customers with Direct Mail". 2008-02-27.
- United States, Postal Service (2014). "USPS Postal Facts 2014" (PDF). usps.com. USPS. p. 5. Retrieved July 4, 2015.
- "Projecting U.S. Mail Volumes to 2020" (PDF). Boston Consulting Group Inc. March 2, 2010. p. 10. Retrieved July 4, 2015.
- "Canada Post chief seeks to boost profit". CBC. CBC. 2006-06-13. Archived from the original on 4 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-28.
- "Website shows way to stop Canada Post junk mail". CTV.ca. CTV. 2008-02-11. Retrieved 2008-02-28.[dead link]
- "USPS defends junk mail". 2008-02-27.
- "Canada Post Letter to the Editor". 2008-02-27.
- What is EDDM?, USPS
- Schmid, Greg (May 2003). "Two Scenarios of Future Mail Volumes" (PDF). U.S. Department of the Treasury. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
- "FAQS: Direct Marketing Direct Mail Ways to Advertise". Valpak Advertising. Valpak.
- Stone, Robert (2008). Successful Direct Marketing Methods 8th edition. New York: McGraw Hill. p. 592. ISBN 978-0-07-145829-0.
- "DMA Releases New 'Power of Direct' Report; DM-Driven Sales Growth Outpace Overall Economic Growth". The-dma.org. 2011-10-02. Retrieved 2012-10-31.
- "Glossary". Fuel Net. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
- "MPS online". Archived from the original on 28 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
- See e.g. Green, Chuck (2006-09-25). "The direct mail stops here: New company 41pounds.org helps people halt the deluge". Waste News.
- Novak, Laura (2007-09-06). "For-Profit Crusade Against Junk Mail". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 3, 2012. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
- See e.g. Ryan, Terri Jo (2007-08-06). "You're pre-approved to dunk the junk!". The Virginian-Pilot & The Ledger-Star., "How to Junk Junk Mail and Other Paper Clutter". The Washington Post. 2008-01-20. Retrieved 2008-03-18.
- "Rowan v. United States Post Office".
- "Red Dot Campaign". Archived from the original on 25 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
- "Website promotes red dots to stop junk mail". CBC.ca. CBC. 2008-01-31. Archived from the original on 6 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
- "Campaign seeks to save paper by refusing junk mail". canada.com. CanWest. 2008-02-10. Archived from the original on 14 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
- Barrow, Becky (2006-08-29). "Anger over Royal Mail's junk mail warning". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
- "EPA Junk Mail Reduction". Epa.gov. 2006-06-28. Retrieved 2010-11-19.
- Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2003 (PDF), EPA, 2005
- "Ohio OCAPP". Archived from the original on 2009-05-11. Retrieved 2016-09-11.
- "House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 16 October 2003 (pt 4)". Retrieved 2008-03-13.
- Hoffbrand, Jenny. "DMA: Recycling targets 'miles away'". Precision Marketing.
- "Earth Day Rx:..." (PDF). 41pounds.org. Retrieved Mar 12, 2009.
- "environmental impact of junk mail". ecofx.org. Retrieved Mar 12, 2009.
- Berners-Lee, Mike (2010). How bad are bananas? : the carbon footprint of everything. London: Profile. p. 45. ISBN 1846688914.
- See e.g. "An Intimate Invasion". 2000-07-02.
- "Pew Internet & American Life Project, Spam Survey". June 2003.
- "Privacy and Advertising Mail". 2012-12-03.
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- Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Junk Mail Opt-Out
- Modes of Delivery and Customer Engagement with Advertising Mail United States Postal Service
- Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Fact Sheet explaining Junk Mail--where it comes from and what can be done to reduce the amount of it
- Stop junk mail, stop catalogs with 41pounds.org