Direct Mail Still Haunted by the J-Word

Summertime and the living is easy. So I stopped by the local spirits shop for a bottle of pink Sancerre and I was greeted with a window display for Double Cross Vodka that included a tongue-in-cheek campaign called “Project Double Cross.” Of course, the campaign’s creator had to get his digs on direct mail

Summertime and the living is easy.

So I stopped by the local spirits shop for a bottle of pink Sancerre and I was greeted with a window display for Double Cross Vodka that included a tongue-in-cheek campaign called “Project Double Cross.” (See the image in the media player at right.)

Of course, the campaign’s creator had to get his digs on direct mail (somehow I assume “hardcore adult magazines” fascination is a male trait, though I could be wrong here) …

Well, I’m not a vodka drinker, but I’m happy to give a Slovakian import a little extra publicity here to make a point: Consumer activism against “junk mail” is a little self-defeating, even if this new brand is seeking to have a little fun. We all know direct mail provides consumers with choices, and is often used as a brand’s secret weapon for targeted marketing. Heck, the entire porn industry, ironically, was built on mail order. Even in 2012, you can be sure some folks in our advertising business still love to ridicule the medium.

The same day I was reading Advertising Age, the recognized voice of agencies and Madison Avenue, and I came across this coverage of a recent Negotiated Service Agreement (NSA) between Valassis Communications and the United States Postal Service, which gives Valassis preferred postal pricing in return for volume increase guarantees: “Postal Ruling Makes Junk Mail Cheaper.”

The newspaper business was taking its shot at criticizing the agreement, and the reporter—who accurately described Valassis as a direct mailer of coupons and circulars—matter-of-factly covered the story. (It’s very quaint in this digital age to see newspapers still set on duking it out with direct mail.)

Still it seems to me funny that the headline editor of a leading trade magazine for integrated marketing falls for the “junk mail” moniker so readily to describe direct mail. Plainly, in this case, direct mail’s power (and value) in circular advertising is its local targeting ability—precisely why newspaper publishers feel so threatened by the Valassis NSA. That doesn’t sound like junk to me, Advertising Age.

You’d think that after the rise of customer relationship management in the 1990s (and how CRM and direct-response agencies emerged as cash cows for their holding companies), and after today’s recognition of direct marketing’s now-very-much-in-vogue accountability and measurability, that both branding evangelists and well-informed journalists would move beyond the tired j-word terminology.

When I worked at the Direct Marketing Association years ago, we were ever-vigilant to monitor brands and newspapers and local governments and other influencers that spewed their attacks on “junk mail” in various rants and ravings, even if the reference was more casual than caustic. The point was then, and it’s still true today, that “junk” is not a label that can be assigned by anyone but the recipient—and no channel is immune from having its content being labeled as junk.

In my opinion, “digital junk” and “screen junk” is everywhere, for example, and there’s much less of it in my mailbox. But I understand that it all pays the way for free Internet, television, email, etc. And as a consumer, I welcome nearly the whole of it. The key for all brands is to use data to create less junk and more relevance—hardly worth a consumer “double cross.”

Now back to my glass of Sancerre.