Chicago offers a direct mail opt-out program

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The city of Chicago began a mail preference service earlier this month that provides residents with the ability to opt out of receiving selected direct mail materials. The effort is designed to enable Chicago to save money on sanitation and rid the city of tons of millions of pounds of paper waste, but it also has obvious direct marketing implications.

The service was created by nonprofit Catalog Choice, which will host a localized website where Chicago residents are able to sign up to control which companies send them direct mail. The company has worked with more than 1.3 million consumers and 4,000 companies to ensure that consumers on corporate mailing lists actually wish to be communicated with.

Catalog Choice president and executive director Chuck Teller disagrees with the assertion that this program could damage direct mail efforts in any way. In fact, he argues that consumers' choice will actually improve direct mail marketing efficiency, lower marketing spend and change negative consumer perception of direct mail.

“Maybe we can get to a point where consumers don't call it junk mail,” says Teller. “We need to engage with the [perception] problem and not run away from it. Consumers have choice across all other marketing channels and they should have it with direct mail.”

Teller advocates for services such as Catalog Choice because he says brands make it too difficult for consumers to opt out of direct mail. He asserts that it is too difficult for consumers to go to each individual brand's website to opt out to prevent future mailings. And if the consumer does take the initiative to opt out, they are forced to comb through unnecessarily long privacy policies. With his company's service, which has honored 19 million opt out choices, consumers need only enter the name of the company from which they'd like to avoid receiving mail.

“Marketers need to make it easy for consumers to make an opt-out choice if that's what they want,” he says. “The keys here are choice and efficiency. Consumers want a title specific choice instead of a network-wide über opt-out. If you give consumers a choice then you only get the opt-outs you deserve.”

The city of Chicago Department of Environment did not respond to interview requests.

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