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The Problem with ‘Junk Mail'

‘Junk mail’ - or 'the j-word' - is a troublesome term. Have you noticed we don't use the phrase much on That is not without reason.

Direct mailers do not like the phrase "junk mail" nor appeals to stop, prevent, or reduce it. A couple of years ago, there was a very public appeal for policy changes regarding so-called junk mail. Sandy Cutts, the Director of Public Affairs for the DMA (Direct Marketing Association), responded,
“Advertising groups find these feelings misdirected, asserting that advertising mail helps consumers with coupons and allows small businesses to get word about their services to targeted audiences…and please don't call it junk mail…We hate that term…We don't use the j-word."

It's no wonder direct mailers, including some of the best, don't like the term. The phrase 'Junk Mail' has historically been used carelessly, widely applied to all 3rd party mail and to the products being advertised, by extension. A catalog you request is not junk mail. A coupon book you value and use is not junk mail. An advertisement for a product or service you didn't know existed, but that interests you, is not junk mail. It's simply inaccurate to call all 3rd party advertising junk mail.

However, we simply cannot ignore how commonly the phrase is used. Hundreds of people tweet 'junkmail' or search Google for junk mail phrases on a daily basis.

Junk Mail Google Searches Source: Google

Tweets on Junk Mail Source:

While it may be applied too broadly, it clearly remains a useful term for some 3rd advertising mail that is thoroughly unsolicited, unwanted, and not of interest.  Any mail that people don't want and have asked to stop is junk in their mind. Regardless of whether the mail is the glossiest magazine-type publication or the cheapest newsprint, if a customer does not want it, to them it's junk. The more they ask for something to stop and the more they are ignored, the more appropriate the j-word becomes.

So if you do see phrases on like 'stop junk mail' or 'reduce junk mail,' know that we do not use that as a blanket term for all 3rd party mail or all unsolicited mail. We use it to reference mail you simply do not want - mail that will, without attention, be discarded. Stopping this kind of 'junk mail' is in the best interest of all parties, including direct mailers.

Reader Comments (2)

When a non-profit keeps sending personalized address stickers to a person who has been dead for nearly three years, after her family has asked them to stop, that's junk mail, whatever they tell you.

February 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Schimmel

Whether it's called 3rd party mail, standard mail, junk mail, junque mail, or eau du rose, I want as little of it as possible cluttering up my mailbox.

How successful have I been? In the 41 mailing days this year, I have received a total of seven (7) pieces of standard mail. Of those, two fell into the acceptable category; two more were from places I currently do businses; another was from a blasted politican; and the other two mailers -- places that in the past hadn't quite understood the simple directive "don't mail" -- got slapped with prohibitory (restraining) orders at my request.

Oh. Total number of catalogs received so far this year? Zero.

And how's your battle of the mailbox going?

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHazel

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