Direct Mail Is Alive & Well!

When my wife, Peggy, and I ran the Who’s Mailing What! newsletter, we would receive around 2,000 
pieces of junk mail a month. I would eyeball each piece quickly, pick out those worth a second look, and then analyze and illustrate about 12 or 15. All the mail would then be coded, listed and added to the archive so subscribers could order folded paper dummies and “steal smart.”

I love direct mail—that one-to-one, intensely personal and tactile advertising that arrives in the privacy of home or office and can be pondered with no commercial interruptions.

“Intimate advertising” is what legendary direct marketing guru Stan Rapp calls it.

With the coming of the Internet in the late 1990s, all the smarty-pants 20-somethings who created the business model told us old-timers that direct mail was dead and we should take a hike and polish our résumés. Many of them are back living with their parents.

However, because e-mail costs virtually nothing, the volume of direct mail nose-dived and post office revenue nose-dived with it. The very viability of the postal system was in jeopardy. Then came spam, scams and phishing, which will ultimately be the savior of direct mail.

According to the 2009 Channel Preference Study by ExactTarget, approximately 75 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds have made at least one purchase resulting from direct mail. These are the kids wired to high-tech. Yet logic dictates that they prefer direct mail, because they are sick of scams and clogged inboxes that force them to waste approximately two work weeks a year dealing with junk e-mail.

At the other end of the age spectrum are seniors who prefer the print media, because they are comfortable with newspapers, magazines and direct mail.

So it was with great pleasure that during one week this past February, I received two mailings aimed at senior citizens offering us information on changes in Medicare. Presumably, they came from insurance companies. I say “presumably,” because both mailings were anonymous—one from a P.O. Box in Maryland, the other from an address in Florida. No company or person is mentioned anywhere. As a consumer I resent this, because my immediate reaction is that these are scammers in hiding waiting to pounce. Further, both outers were dishonest. The #10 envelope effort had as a teaser:


This was a lie. I read my mail, and this was emphatically not the third notice.

The little double postcard was a naked attempt to con me into believing it was a federal government mailing. Inside was a mousetype footnote that admitted the trickery:


However, one thing about creeps like these: They know their direct marketing arithmetic down to a gnat’s eyebrow, and they have discovered that it is more cost-effective in terms of ROI to spend $600/M for junk mail than go bottom-fishing virtually for free via e-mail marketing.

Hey fellow lovers of direct mail—printers, lettershops, list owners, list brokers and USPS officials—direct mail lives. A large percentage of the population—18 to 34 and 62-plus—prefers it to e-mail.

As spam proliferates, the future gets brighter and brighter.

Break out the Dom Pérignon!

Denny Hatch is a freelance direct marketing consultant and copywriter, and author of the e-mail newsletter, Denny Hatch’s Business Common Sense. Visit him at or, or contact him via e-mail at

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

Publish date: May 1, 2010 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT