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Will we ever clear our doormats of junk mail?

The average home gets 453 pieces of junk mail a year. No wonder so many of us want to cut the amount we receive. Robert Rijkhoff, of the Stop Junk Mail campaign, explains why current measures simply don’t work.

Britain uses about three times its fair share of paper. Yet, even though it’s clear we don’t have enough trees to sustain our level of paper consumption, we can’t even seem to cut junk mail.

What’s wrong with us?

The fox is guarding the hen house

Royal Mail distributes about half of all unaddressed junk mail that comes through the door. The company is well aware that not everybody appreciates all those leaflets from Virgin Media, Direct Line, Domino’s Pizza and the like, and so it has set up an opt-out scheme.

According to the latest figures, just under 0.8% of households has opted out. If you think that’s a rather low percentage, you might be interested to know that a second opt-out scheme for unaddressed mail, run by the Direct Marketing Association and ironically called “Your Choice”, has an opt-out rate of just 0.006%.

Opt-out schemes rarely work, and schemes that are as ineffective and customer-unfriendly as the above-mentioned ‘services’ will never achieve opt-out rates of any significance. I believe opt-out schemes like Your Choice exist purely to give the impression that the industry is being responsible. It’s the fox guarding the hen house; a prime example of how self-regulation shouldn’t work.

The new magic word: targeting

The Direct Marketing Association et al don’t make a secret of the fact that they don’t like the idea of people opting out. The industry’s preferred solution is “targeting”. By collecting vast amounts of data about people’s interests and lifestyles, marketeers believe they are nowadays able to target people with “communications” they’ll almost certainly be interested in.

Much as the junk mail industry would like to be in the same league as Google and Facebook, it’s clear that its figures don’t add up. After years of targeting, about 70% of all unsolicited mail is still unaddressed, and therefore not targeted in any meaningful way. Targeting can only be a small part of the solution to the junk mail issue.

The fear of the consumer

The industry’s solutions – setting up opt-out schemes and improving targeting – haven’t solved the junk mail problem. The reason is that both approaches have been dreamed up behind closed doors, without consulting the recipients of advertising mail. People don’t want complicated opt-out schemes, nor do they want the industry to use ever more sophisticated targeting tools. They just want less junk mail.

Marketeers don’t want to hear this. Yet, it’s the only solution, and one that has worked well in many other countries. Making it truly easy for people to stop unwanted advertisements is the only form of targeting that works. Not only does it prevent people from being force-fed advertisements, it also makes sense from an economic point of view.

You see, by not sending advertisements to people who hate junk mail, the industry doesn’t have to waste resources on targeting the unwilling, which increases the sender’s “return on investment”.

Any workable solution will have to start with a constructive debate. The industry would need to overcome some taboos and be willing to discuss, for instance, launching a single website where people can register with various opt-out schemes for unsolicited marketing (there are more than ten of them!).

Another topic that has so far escaped debate is whether or not reducing unaddressed mail should be easy as putting a freely and readily available “No Junk Mail” sign on your door.

So far, marketeers have been unwilling to have such a debate. It’s not just ironic that they want to know everything about us but refuse to talk about reducing junk mail – it’s precisely the reason why industry self-regulation is failing to reduce waste. Marketeers suffer from an irrational fear of the consumer.

Have you tried to stop junk mail?

Yes - and it's helped reduce it (37%, 211 Votes)

Yes - but it hasn't worked (35%, 198 Votes)

No - I don't know how to (20%, 112 Votes)

No - I can't be bothered (9%, 50 Votes)

Total Voters: 571

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Comments
Guest

Do you have any tips on businesses wanting to encourage their employees to opt out of junk mail at work. We have hundreds of junk mail items a day that end up going into recycling that we would rather not receive in the first place! If we don’t receive it we don’t have to dispose of it.

Sensible suggestions on how to encourage our employees would be very welcome.

Guest

Interestingly, businesses have few rights when it comes to preventing unsolicited mail. You can’t register your company with the Mailing Preference Service or send the sender a Data Protection Notice, for instance.

I’d suggesting returning all the unwanted mail back to the senders. Cross out the address(*), write something along the lines of ‘Junk mail – please remove from mailing list’ on the envelope and pop it back in the post. If enough people / companies would do this the problem would solve itself pretty quickly!

You may also want to contact Defra. I raised the issue of ‘business-to-business’ junk mail with them a while ago and they said they have no intention to make it easier for businesses to prevent unwanted advertising mail because nobody appears to be complaining about it. I’m sure they’ll be interesting to hear your story. The e-mail address to contact is defra.helpline@defra.gsi.gov.uk.


(*) Expert tip: also cross out any of those red/orange sorting stripes you may find on junk mail envelopes. Those barcodes (not sure what the correct name is) are used by Royal Mail’s sorting machines to sort mail items. If you don’t put a cross through the barcodes the item you returned to the sender may be redirected to again!

Guest
West Coast Kat says:
24 October 2012

Hi!

I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Royal Mail to stop sending me unaddressed mail. I’ve had the same promises over and over again that it will be stopped, but to no avail. Is there any legal recourse? I really can’t see it stopping unless there is something I can threaten them with.

Cheers : >

Guest

Unfortunately, many people find Royal Mail will ignore a registration with the Door-to-Door Opt-Out unless you keep hassling them and/or make a formal complaint. Information about how best to hassle / complaint about Royal Mail can be found on the Stop Junk Mail website:

http://www.stopjunkmail.org.uk/guide/door_to_door_opt_out.php#complaints

If you’re a radical who prefers taking legal action then contract law is your friend – people have had considerable success claiming money from junk mail offenders (including Virgin Media!). The first thing you’d need to do is send the offender a notice/contract demanding that they cease delivering unaddressed mail to your address within 28 days. The notice/contract needs to state that you will charge the offender £25 (or whatever amount you think is reasonable) for every breach of the contract. Once the contract is breached you make a claim via Money Claim Online (www.moneyclaim.gov). My understanding is that offenders usually fail to respond, in which case they have effectively pleaded guilty. Other offenders will simply pay up because disputing you claim would probably be unsuccessfull and/or not cost-effective.

Guest
Keith says:
7 November 2012

I am a postman,though not for much longer I fear. I hate delivering junk mail, especially to people that hate getting it. People assume it keeps me in a job but I get £13 to deliver junk mail across 770 houses/flats,if I just took my junk mail out it would take 3 to 4 hours with 1 type of junk mail. It is a criminal operation I feel. From the inside I can safely say junk mail is prioratized by the management, a manager of mine reflected that junk mail is his pension, sadly my contract does not qualify for a pension. Finally I just want to remind anyone reading the old saying just in case, don’t shoot the messenger.

Guest

I subscribe to a gardening magazine and when I received the latest issue there were 19 leaflets included in it – and six of these were exactly the same leaflet. In a time when we are encouraged to cut down on waste and recycle we shouldn’t be receiving so much junk mail. I signed up to the mail preference service because I was sick of receiving junk mail but it doesn’t seem to have made much difference. Today I received 27 items through the post – 26 were junk mail. By including leaflets with magazines companies can ignore the mail preference service. It seems to me that more companies are using this method for getting their leaflets into our homes. It would be interesting to know if other people have noticed an increase in the number of junk mail included with magazines that they subscribe to.

Guest

I expect it’s the case that the bumf included with the mags pays for the reduced price for a subscription compared with buying them over the counter. The charities and companies that pay to have their stuff delivered this way must think it’s worth while; I don’t give it a second glance as it goes straight in the recycling bin. I’d rather not have it in the first place but I wouldn’t want to pay more for the magazines just to exclude it.

Guest
James says:
25 June 2014

I enjoy receiving junk mail. I am MPS and TPS registered and therefore bill them £400 a time. Its fairly easy to do, and usually requires just 3 letters…

Notice of Demand For Administration Costs
Notice of Fault and Opportunity To Cure
Notice of Default

You should be able to find templates online for these documents. If they don’t pay up within the 10 day time limit, i send the next letter. If they refuse to pay, you have taken all the necessary steps to take it to small claims court. If they have a half decent legal team, they will usually pay up within 2 letters.

Strangely the junk mail seems to dry up, which is a real shame 🙁