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Making direct mail green: A riposte

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14th Apr 2008
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In a recent article on MyCustomer.com, the direct marketing industry came under fire for the environmental action it is taking. In this response, Chris Roxburgh outlines how door-drop - which has borne the brunt of criticism - is contributing significantly to efforts to make direct marketing green.

By Chris Roxburgh, LinkDirect

Iain Lovatt’s article, ‘Making direct mail green’, was an interesting and timely discussion of the many environmental challenges facing the direct marketing industry. As he makes clear, the environment is now indisputably at the centre of the political and social agenda, and it would be pointless and commercially damaging for the business community not to reflect this.

Inevitably, the nature of the direct marketing industry - and the not inconsiderable number of misconceptions readily associated with it - has assured it a prominent place in the line of fire from environmentalists and politicians alike. Given the public’s perceived dislike for 'junk mail', the industry is an easy target with few friends, or at least few audible friends.

"The reality is that door-drop practitioners welcome the new ‘Your Choice’ scheme, which will enable consumers to make an informed choice before deciding to opt-out of receiving all leaflets delivered by DMA members."

 

Where Iain’s article trod on slightly more unsteady ground was in his broad-brushed attack on both the merits of direct marketing and the environmental action it is taking. I don’t wish to speak on behalf of the industry as a whole, but merely from the experience of my particular sector – door-drop marketing. As the managing director of one of the 'door-drop contractors' he credits with a “significant role in contributing to waste production”, I believe it is important to put the other side of the argument.

To take the issue of opt-in first, the government is indeed exploring this option for the industry. But Iain’s doom-laden prediction that such a mechanism would “signal the end of direct marketing” is wide of the mark, at least as far as door-drop is concerned. It is not a realistic prospect, and Joan Ruddock, the minister for climate change, biodiversity and waste, acknowledged as much in a recent interview.

The reality is that door-drop practitioners welcome the new ‘Your Choice’ scheme, which will enable consumers to make an informed choice before deciding to opt-out of receiving all leaflets delivered by DMA members. After all, why would we want to deliver leaflets to householders who have no interest in receiving unaddressed information through the letterbox?

What is junk mail?

Distribution practitioners have been operating opt-out schemes very successfully and efficiently for many years in both the free newspaper and directory markets, and there is no reason to suggest that ‘Your Choice’ won’t be similarly successful. During a calendar year, publishers make significant savings on print, production and delivery costs by observing householders’ wishes – why should such savings not be extended to leaflets? This will go some way to helping DEFRA achieve their targets and will enhance D2D service levels at the same time.

Far from fearing opt-in, the door-drop marketing industry is in fact ready to embrace it; like any industry it has to adapt to its times and if at times progress can appear slow, that is probably more a reflection of the speed with which the whole green issue has assumed the spotlight. The intent, certainly so far as my company and many of our competitors is concerned, is certainly there.

More and more door-drop promotions – for everyone from major brands to local authorities – now carry the ‘Recycle Now’ logo, and research shows that 65% of people in England now recognise it.

A second key issue – briefly touched upon in Iain’s article – concerns the differentiation between 'junk' and more relevant mail. Door-drop takes the brunt of unfair criticism over the junk mail issue largely due to confusion, at all levels, as to what junk mail is. Practitioners and advertisers alike find the term insulting. Junk mail is lazy tabloid-speak for anything, regardless of delivery method, that the recipient receives but which isn’t relevant.

To a constituency MP, their newsletter to all householders is considered an important part of the democratic process, but a single mum on a budget might value promotional leaflets from the local supermarket far more highly. Every household has different priorities, so who decides what is junk? In partnership with segmentation tools such as Experian’s Mosaic, door-to-door is more sophisticated, targeted and effective than ever before. The ‘Your Choice’ scheme can only improve that still further, to the benefit of customers and environmentalists alike.

There have been other gradual advancements. More and more door-drop promotions – for everyone from major brands to local authorities – now carry the ‘Recycle Now’ logo, and research shows that 65% of people in England now recognise it. Door drop practitioners actively encourage such use and see this as another positive contribution they can make to the overall recycling awareness scheme. The use of recycled paper is also encouraged, although it has to be said the door-drop industry has some way to go before it compares with the UK newspaper industry, which last year used recycled paper for 79% of all its newspapers.

There is always more that can be done, but by embracing Your Choice, increasing targeting and recycling awareness at all stages of the planning, production and post-promotional stages, door-drop is - and can be seen to be - contributing significantly to efforts to make direct marketing green.

Chris Roxburgh is managing director of LinkDirect and a member of the DMA Council.

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