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