Birgitte Rasine is the chief evolution officer of LUCITÀ, a firm believer in abolishing junk mail.
Help. My hands are sweaty, my heart’s racing, my vision’s blurred and I can’t breathe. I’ve been shredding since last Monday and my office is nearly filled to the ceiling with little multicolored bits of paper that resemble viruses magnified under a microscope. I feel myself sinking down through this swamp of cellulose dust, flailing about in vain to find a chair or cabinet to hang on to, grasping for one last breath of clean air… then darkness.
That’s my nightmarish vision of what it would feel like if I took all the direct mail that I ever received and shredded it all in one go. I’d probably pass out, either from exhaustion or breathing pulverized paper pulp.
Let me be blunt: I hate junk mail. Whoever invented it, I want to dunk them into an Olympic-size pool filled to the brim with mailers, postcards and superficially impersonal letters. I want to pour all the ink that’s ever been wasted into their bath tub and make them sit in it. I want them to lick every single postage stamp ever used for direct mail. I want them to look in the eyes of every one of their victims—once vibrant, dynamic people who are now spending their lives trying to organize, shred, get rid of junk mail they never asked for. Their names are sold without their knowledge, their identities traded like junk bonds in darkened, dusty corners of cyberspace. Do-not-call and do-not-mail lists are riddled with loopholes. Few of us have the time or the resources to mount legal campaigns to protect the rights that should naturally be ours to begin with. Do we need martial law to protect ourselves from the insistent march of these malicious mailers?
In real life, I’m somewhat more diplomatic. In principle, I get why direct mail exists. There are legitimate reasons used by legitimate organizations with legitimate desires to inform their audiences about the work they do, their products and services. The problem is, it’s purely financial. There’s not a single piece of direct mail that I have ever received that was sent for any other reason than acquiring donations, selling products or services, or other monetary gains.
Time is precious—now more than ever. We all work more hours, sleep less, eat worse, spend less time with our loved ones. It must be some cosmic joke that instead of easing our lives as they claim, direct mail marketers are only driving the nail deeper. If you spend just one hour per week tearing up, shredding, or reading unwanted mail, assuming a 40-year professional lifespan, you’ll spend nearly 87 days—almost 3 months—of your life, consumed. Ironic, isn’t it. Aren’t you supposed to be the consumer?
And this is nothing compared to the entire lifetimes of time spent by the copywriters, designers, layout artists, account executives, marketers, salespeople, printers, post office workers and other professionals in this exercise. All because the money people in the corner offices feel a return of less than one tenth of one percent makes it all worthwhile. Perhaps when they have less than one tenth of one percent of forest cover remaining on the planet, they’ll redo their formulas.
Today, in an ever greener business climate where we talk about the triple bottom line as a given, the raison d’être of direct mail is no more. It’s a dinosaur of the Industrial Era, a fossil of the marketing industry. Digital communications technologies can communicate the same message—as they do—without the physical resources required to produce the materials and the physical labor required to dispose of them. Yet somehow, the dinosaur lives on, fiercely convinced it still has a legitimate place in today’s forward-looking socioeconomic environments.
All of the direct mail I receive goes right into the recycling bin. As often as I can, I actually take the time out of my busy day to call or email the source and tell them that while we support their cause (if it’s a non profit we believe in), we do not support wasting precious natural resources. And you know what? They always reply as if they’re relieved. Relieved they can take one more name off their list and spend less money. I wish that were the case with the credit card companies and the catalogues. Perhaps I can tell them all here:
Kill the direct mail. And if you really must mail, then keep it short and keep it recyclable—or better yet, biodegradable. Don’t send the fake credit cards, the gimmicky pens, the self-adhesive stickers. Print on recycled paper with biodegradable inks.
And for those who love economic formulas and revenue-planning models, take the time to figure out which of your company’s recipients actually respond, and take everyone else off the list. See how efficient your numbers will be then.
Then maybe we can all dream about frolicking in the fields with our children instead of drowning in seas of unwanted mail. And I can stop having nightmares about paper dust.