Ads That Turn You Off?

by Sheila Millar

Is there anyone out there who does not like receiving mail? We all love to hear from friends and relatives and some form of written correspondence does a lot to brighten up one's day. However if I refer to a more specific type of mail, the response may not be so overwhelmingly positive. I am, of course, talking about JUNK MAIL. A recent survey among 1500 Britons showed that junk mail is more than twice as irritating as the use of mobile phones in public places or motorists hogging the middle lane on the motorway. Why then do we put up with it and, more importantly, is it an effective advertising method within the world of business today?

What is Junk Mail?

"Junk mail" in its most universal definition is - "unwanted or unprompted mail." This definition is, however, wide open to variation. What the average person calls 'junk mail', the business recipient and sender give the technical name "direct marketing." The growing dislike of this medium seems to stem from the late 70's and early 80's when indiscriminate communications earned the unwanted tag of 'junk mail.' Now however, the whole aim in direct marketing is to focus on a particular target audience and if successful, to elicit sales from them. It is highly unlikely that a supermarket will fax through to a parliament office, details of their latest special offers! It is, however, conceivable that an e-mail ad for the latest computer programme may be sent to an avid computer user. Being more focused appears to be the successful route in this form of advertising.

Does It Work?

A recent article in "The Times" stated that from an expenditure of ?5.5 billion - in printing, postage, holding and updating customer databases - direct marketing produced a record of ?23 billion in sales in 1996. A total of 3.27 billion items were delivered, more than two thirds to private homes. That means the average targeted household receives two items of junk mail per week! With recorded sales figures like this, are we still asking "does it work?"

Mail coming through the post, fax or e-mail is fast, it can be sent very efficiently and directed at a very specific audience. Even if my work collegues complain about the amount of junk faxes arriving daily, they still are quick off the mark to respond to the ones that are of interest to them. If you say the right thing and are able to get the attention of your reader you have come closer to your intended result without any real 'direct' contact.

We cannot, however, ignore the fact that junk mail is increasingly referred to as the most hated of all communications. In Britain, the direct marketing industry has the Direct Preference Service through which more than 400,000 consumers have registered their wish to be excluded from mailing lists. In America, some of the most aggrieved recipients have established in the courts that unsolicited fax messages represent theft of the recipient's paper. Such is the rising tide of direct marketing e-mail, that it has earned the nickname - "Spam."1 E-mail users are developing lots of 'blocking' techniques to avoid this unwanted mail.

If as an advertiser you choose to use some form of 'direct mail', the numerical facts are impressive. Though many appear to be aggrieved by it, direct marketing appears to work . There are many methods of advertising available to any business person, regardless of the size or nature of your company. What we need to think about is how best to reach our target audience. Our concern should be the most effective way to give our company a positive image, to express clearly what we are promoting and to win our potential customer's attention. What one person thinks of as 'junk mail' can be a gold mine for another. The key seems to be in targeting the right people.

1. "The term 'Spam' originates from the Monty Python sketch in which every item on the canteen menu

included liberal helpings of spam. Whenever the waitress recited the menu, a group of Vikings in the corner began chanting the word 'Spam', drowning out everything else. " ( D. Summer Smith - "Direct Marketing" magazine.)

We'll look more specifically at advertising on the Internet in the next issue.

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