You may hate junk mail, but research says it works anyways.
People may pass by billboards with their heads pointed elsewhere, click through video ads with mild annoyance and hit the mute button during TV commercials. But they still enjoy reading business-fueled snail mail.
Direct mail evokes more emotion and remains one of the best ways to target local and specific audiences, which is why the piles of paper known as junk mail remain so popular with companies large and small.
“[Direct mail is] not as sexy and exciting as some of the tech innovations on the Internet,” said Gary Mulloy, CEO of Money Mailer, a direct mailing company. “But people pick up their mail to get advertising, they like getting it that way.”
Despite the rapid proliferation of the smartphone, spending on direct mail has managed to rise even as marketers spend more on digital advertising. Since 2010, spending on e-mail advertising rose 10.4% while display ad spending climbed 23%.
Meanwhile, spending on direct mailings has managed to rise slightly, 0.4%, since 2010, according to research from the Winterberry Group, a New York-based market research group. In total, mailings of coupons, catalogs and electioneering flyers is estimated at $45-$50 billion a year, according to Money Mailer.
Companies big and small use direct mail. Its a prominent way for big retailers to attract local audiences to their stores, Mulloy said. Victoria’s Secret is one retailer known for a wide use of direct mail. The company sends coupons and catalogues to mailboxes nationwide, and has even brought their direct mail campaigns into the digital age by including scannable sections of their catalogues. By using the Victoria’s Secret app on iOS or Android platforms, customers can get more information about the products they see in paper catalogues, and are able to make purchases through the apps. The company declined a request for their total, and direct mail advertising budgets.
Junk mail tends to provoke more emotional responses than digital marketing. According to a joint study between the United States Postal Service and Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making published June 15, respondents were more likely to remember a mailed print ad better than a digital one and place a higher value on the product being advertised.
While participants in the study reported having no preference between print and digital advertising, neurological tests performed while the participants were looking at the different types of ads indicated different “subconscious physiological responses” between the two, including a slightly faster heart rate and higher attention levels when looking at print advertising.
“The research showed that physical ads generate brain activity associated with a higher perceived value and desirability of the advertised product or service,” according to the study. “Companies that want to generate a more accurate memory of an ad, for better recall during a purchase, would be served best by physical ads.”
Of course, the U.S. Postal Service has a vested interest in promoting direct mail which comprised more than 30% of its revenue in 2014. USPS, which generated $67 billion in sales last year, says paper advertisements are “imperative” to the future of the government-owned service. The volume of direct mail has been declining at a slower rate than other categories of mail, according to data from the USPS.
It’s the physicality of the advertising that works, a point that newspapers and magazines continue to make to attract marketers. Getting physical ads into people’s hands is the main draw for advertisers, according to IWCO Direct, a print marketing firm based in Chanhassen, Minn.
“No other channel can make this claim,” Tom Hexamer, vice president of sales at IWCO, said in a blog post. “It’s important to consider how your audience interacts with a mailpiece. Like a fine wine, it must appeal to all of five senses.”
Still, digital ads are a growing an important part of an advertiser’s options. Mitt Romney received criticism in 2012 for not using new advertising methods such as social media as well as Barack Obama, and the former Massachusetts governor eventually lost the 2012 race for president.
Even as companies place more importance on digital advertising, Mulloy said your junk mail may not be going away anytime soon.[Advertisers] can’t find anything as effective at grabbing people, and getting them to read their ads,” Mulloy said. “It surprises most people.”