Trillions of Dollars from Junk Mail and Spam

In a new, informative book—Marketing in the Round: How to Develop an Integrated Marketing Campaign in the Digital Era— Gina Dietrich and Geoff Livingston said 54.2 percent of all advertising expenditures in the United States in 2010 were for direct marketing. So that year, companies spent $153 billion sending you and me and everyone else in the country all the junk mail that overran our mailboxes six days a week and all the spam that filled our email boxes every night and day.

This was a shock to me.

But what really surprised me was another statement on the same page of this book: Direct marketing “is the most powerful form of marketing because it is the most likely to produce a sale. . . .”

Can this be right? I thought most people were like me and ignored (completely or after a slight scanning) all of this unwanted, unsolicited, paper- or pixel-wasting mail.

In the past few days alone, my email has been cluttered with at least two webcast invitations—trashed without reading; an invitation from Apple to buy the new iPhone 5—trashed (although reluctantly); requests for me to buy any number of professional guides (for hundreds of dollars each), usually covering professions that I’m not in, never wanted to be in, and don’t plan to ever be in—trashed, without opening; and more Groupon messages than I care to think about—trashed, usually without reading.

Likewise, our mailbox contained catalogs of women’s items from Duluth Trading Company and LL Bean; credit card applications from Citibank, Bank of America, and other forgettable financial institutions; flyers and brochures from local, state and national politicians seeking support and donations; and another piece, this time a Christmas catalog from Frontgate—just in case we want to shop for the holiday three months early. All trashed.

The only piece that caught our attention long enough to pause slightly as we threw it away was the card announcing a 30 percent discount on some goods at The Gap. Perhaps our daughter would be interested. No, not this time.

Certainly the poor success rate at our house would not bode well for making this form of marketing the most likely to produce a sale. We must not be representative of other homes across the country since the book also states that nearly $1.8 trillion (that’s trillion with a “t”) worth of incremental sales derived squarely from this direct marketing effort in 2010.

Can that many people be sitting at home waiting by the mailbox and inbox, just hoping some company will send them an opportunity to spend more of their money on yet another item they didn’t know they wanted until that brightly colored, badly designed, and poorly written junk mail or spam caught their eye?

It’s a miracle they knew we needed this, they’re thinking, as they reach, once again, for their credit card.

2 responses

  1. Yes, it’s right. It’s because marketers value a 1-xx% conversion rate over the angst of pissing off the vast majority. Email marketing, paid search, etc. are all direct methods like this. It’s just what works to get sales. Now, automation with a well tended hand can create a different better conversion rate with more interaction and relationship equity for brands. But that means addressing the spam problem. I hope more do it!

    • Geoff,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I, of course, wasn’t really questioning the accuracy of your book’s statement, just expressing my surprise that so many people respond to direct marketing efforts. I can’t remember the last time I bought anything from—or even thought favorably of—an unsolicited piece of mail or an email.

      But then I give no value to advertising either—advertising that perhaps leads to sales from others. So, I record 95% or so of the programs I watch on TV, skip advertisements in the three newspapers I read each day, and overlook all ads that pop up on my screens.

      However, I am a sucker for the well-written, third-party endorsements in articles of many publications—this is true even after working for many years in media relations and understanding the influence of PR on today’s “news.” I guess you just never can tell.


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