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Advertising mail, also known as direct mail, junk mail, 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, catalogs, CDs, “pre-approved” credit card applications, and other commercial merchandising materials delivered to both homes and businesses. It may be addressed to pre-selected individuals, or unaddressed and delivered on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis.
Postal systems have enacted 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 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.
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.
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Design and format
Direct mail permits the marketer to design marketing pieces in many different formats. Indeed, there is an entire subsector of the industry that produces specialized papers, printing, envelopes, and other materials for direct-mail marketing. Some of the common formats include:
Advantages and disadvantages
Many[weasel words] people respond positively to direct mail advertising and find useful goods and services on offer. Traditionally, this was more true in rural areas where people had to travel many miles to do their shopping and direct mail and mail order shopping was a major convenience. In current practice, people may opt in to direct mail lists in order to be alerted to a favorite vendor’s sales or events. However, some people dislike it, in the same way as with telemarketers' calls and, as noted above, e-mail spam, and some jurisdictions like the US have laws requiring junk mailers to withhold their offerings from residents who opt out.
Advantages for marketers include the following:
Advertisers often call direct mail "targeted mailing", since mail is usually sent out following database analysis. For example a person who purchases golf supplies may receive direct mail for golf-related products or perhaps for goods and services that are appropriate for golfers. When direct mail uses database analysis, it is a type of database marketing.
Advances in computing and communications technology have significantly impacted the direct mailing industry in recent years. As computers become more powerful and databases become larger, new opportunities arise for direct mail companies to perform more in-depth processing of their mailing lists. Mailings can be targeted based on location and demographic data. This allows mailings to be targeted more specifically and potentially increases response rates. Web sites are appearing which allow clients to create their mailing lists interactively using map-based interfaces.
Personalized URLs, also known as PURLs, are personalized websites used in conjunction with direct mail that are designed to gather information about the person that visits it. Marketing companies find this useful when testing marketing methods and response rates.
Personalized URLs are generally printed on the direct mail piece in the format JohnSample.domain.com or domain.com/JohnSample. They recognize the individual who is visiting the site and can welcome them by name. They also have the ability to obtain and disperse detailed and specific information pertaining to the individual looking at the site.
Personalized URLs are assigned to individual recipients based on the direct mail campaign database and are included either as the only variable or as one of several variable fields in the larger variable data printing communication. When recipients of the direct mail piece log onto their PURL, the information from the campaign database is used to tailor the web page experience to that specific recipient. They are referenced by name, and the graphics, text, offers, and other information on the page can also be tailored to them personally, based on the information in the marketer's database.Studies have shown that people prefer to get additional information online, so Personalized URLs create a seamless way to connect the printed piece to the Web.
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 U.S. 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.
Business-to-Business mailings (B2B)
Business products and services have long used direct mail to promote themselves. 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 United Kingdom, 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, such as 41pounds.org, and DirectMail.com , as well as private sector alternatives like Greendimes.
In response to a US Supreme Court ruling (Rowan v. Post Office Dept.), 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 junk mail.
In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 44% of junk mail is discarded without being opened or read, equaling 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.
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 United States 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 meters (396 square feet).
In the United States many commercial envelope printing companies are moving towards water-based or vegetable-based ink and laminates, and have increased the use of recycled paper.