Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: Door-Drop Backlash Begins

Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: Door-Drop Backlash Begins

Article excerpt

Opt-outs have soared since a postman blew the whistle on a rise in direct mail volumes, writes Noelle McElhatton.

August is normally a relaxed time for Royal Mail and the direct marketing industry, but the past week has proved to be quite the opposite. Royal Mail's suspension of postman Roger Annies for telling householders on his round how to opt out of unaddressed commercial mail door-drops received blanket media coverage, unleashing a consumer backlash against direct marketing.

Media reports lambasted direct mail as well as door-drops. 'Great junk mail revolt' was the Daily Mail's front-page headline last Wednesday, accompanying an article detailing how consumers 'jammed' a Royal Mail helpline demanding to be removed from door-drop and direct-mail lists. Inside, the newspaper gave over half a page to listing ways consumers can block marketing via post, fax, email and telephone.

In counting the cost of the negative media coverage, industry concern has initially focused on the knock-on effect on direct mail, which remains a vital customer acquisition channel for marketers despite the rise of online.

Until now, registrations to the Mailing Preference Service (MPS), the opt-out scheme for addressed mailings, have grown at a snail's pace compared with the flood of people signing up to Telephone Preference Service (TPS), which hit a high of 13m this summer.

'The MPS has existed for 20 years and still has fewer than 3m registered, which indicates that a lot of people don't mind receiving intelligently targeted direct mail,' says James Kelly, managing director of the Direct Marketing Association. A survey by the DMA and the Future Foundation last year calculated that direct mail generates pounds 67bn of sales a year.

Despite such positive statistics, last week's furore seems to indicate that consumers are becoming as fed up with what is coming through their letterboxes as they are with telemarketing calls.

In the two days after the story broke last week, the DMA received 60,000 registrations to the MPS, compared with the average 40,000 it normally receives in a month. The DMA's helpline has received 10 times as many calls as usual.

The big question for the direct industry is whether the consumer outcry will encourage brands to switch funds into other channels. 'I really don't think that will happen,' says Simon Foster, managing director of PHD Confidential, whose door-drop clients include the AA. 'The brands for whom direct mail and door-drops work will cope with this glitch.'

Sky is the UK's eighth-biggest spender on direct mail, according to Thomson Intermedia, as well as being a heavy user of door-drops (see box). 'Direct mail and door-drops have been effective marketing vehicles for Sky and we expect them to remain so,' says a spokesman for the broadcaster. 'They reach consumers who are interested in our products.'

Like Sky, financial-services provider Capital One uses direct mail and door-drops to reach huge tranches of UK consumers. 'If people really feel so strongly about direct mail, it's a good thing (for the brands that use the medium) when they say they don't want to receive it,' says Arjan Dijk, UK director of marketing at Capital One. 'But there are only 3m people on MPS, so I'm not that concerned. …

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