Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Occupy Direct Mail

Return to Senda. Whoever she is.
This isn't an original idea. But I think, in the spirit of the Occupy Christmas Season, it's time to revive it.

Now, I know you're going to think this is hypocritical, given my profession as an advertising practitioner, but I hate direct mail. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it. Don't like to get it. Don't like to design it. Don't like to be involved in any part of it. I'm sure I'm all alone in this. Most people love their junk mail. They love winnowing out the tons of flyers, envelopes cleverly disguised as  government checks, packets of coupons wrapped in plastic (so you have to open the plastic in order to toss them into the recycle bin), holiday catalogs, and political/religious material. But I'm different. Direct mail irritates me. I'm weird that way.

But if any of you are like me, I have a solution...or at least a way to fight back. This has been suggested before, but it's time to revive the tactic...in the spirit of Black Friday. You'll probably think it's so immature.

Ring the Doorbell and Run
If any of these direct mail pieces you get contain a pre-paid, self-addressed return envelope or card (a BRM or BRC in trade lingo), send it back...empty. This way, the people who fill up your mailbox with pulp will be required to double their postal costs; the postage to send you the "very important open immediately" message and the postage to get it back. Not only will this make the cost-per-sale twice as much (which, for direct marketing, is already some of the most expensive media in advertising), it will return the irritation to its place of origin. As they open up the envelope, their hearts all aflutter with the anticipation of a sale, their hopes will be dashed when they see the envelope is empty. It's like ringing a doorbell and running. Hee, hee, hee!

It Adds Up
Okay, it's only 42 cents (assuming machinable commercial BRM rates). But, if the mailer has been sent to you First Class, that's 84 cents they'll have wasted. And if all of us do this, it will double the CPMs (cost per mille) of their entire DM operation. Not to mention give a needed shot-in-the arm to the failing U.S.Postal Service (so it would be a patriotic act, as well). Say somebody sends out 100,000 mailings. That's $84,000 alone in postage costs right there. Given the average response rate of  only 1.38% for the average DM campaign (according to DMA, 2010), that means it would cost nearly $61 for each reply in postage alone, not including the cost of the lists, the creative and production costs of the piece, the fulfillment costs, and the margin for the DM company.

An empty return envelope is a fun gesture by itself (and so easy). But if you really want to get back at whoever sent you something, you can fill that reply envelope not with a blank order form, but with a polite, anonymous, but terse note to the effect that you've decided to buy from their competitor instead, or vote for the other guy. You can be creative with this: For instance tell them you had been thinking about supporting their cause or going to their sale, but on reading their "very important announcement," you changed your mind.

Or, even more fun, mix up the order blanks and reply envelopes. Put somebody else's form in another company's return envelope. It's important that you leave no trace of who is sending this back to them so they can't track who's the crank in their system. So be ninja.

Occupy Electronically
If you're retired and haven't yet identified a hobby to fill your time until you die, might I suggest fun with the 800 number? Engage their call center in rambling conversation about your kids, their kids, what TV shows they like, what they think this boil on your butt means. Ask lots of questions about the product or offer, ask about the employee's personal life, about the weather over there in Bangalore, anything to keep them on the phone and grind down the efficiency of their operation. Even though the call is free to you (if it's an 800 number), it works like a return envelope: It's on their nickel. And they have to hire more and more people to handle all of us high-maintenance customers (I mean "customers"). So it's good for the overall employment picture.

You can enjoy this hobby digitally, too. Go to the website and request more information. Give them squat in return. They'll capture your e-mail address but you can always automatically bounce that back to them as spam. If enough people do this, it will screw with their Google Page Ranks, clog up their servers, increase ISP costs, and make them feel the same irritation you do when you go to open your e-mail every morning. It's reverse spamming. Share the love.

The point is, we want to throw sand into the entire direct marketing machine.  We want to get less junk mail and if enough of us pretend to respond, we'll increase their response rates but also greatly increase the costs per sale.

Of course, DM has its uses. If you sign up to get newsletters or specific information, then obviously you still want to get those things. Or if the list is highly specific to interested, likely customers, that's fine, too. If we're interested in it, it's not junk, is it? But for the most part...well, what do you think?

So try this. Today, when you clear out your mailbox, instead of just tossing most of it into the recycle bin, look for the pre-stamped reply envelopes and put them back in the mailbox, sealed but empty. All it's going to take is an extra minute and tiny bit of saliva.

Do it for the kids.