UPDATE: Marketers Respond to 'Junk Mail' Survey

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Direct marketers this week got the chance to sound off on survey results released this month by the Consumer Federation of America, Washington, which indicated that Americans find "junk mail" irritating.


The report, which surveyed 1,003 people who constitute a representative sample of the U.S. adult population, found that 78 percent of respondents believe the amount of unsolicited mail, or junk mail, they receive irritates them "a lot or a little."


Of the 78 percent who found it irritating, 48 percent said junk mail irritates them a lot. That's an increase of 2 percentage points over last year's survey.


Direct marketers said, however, that if direct mail is targeted, it is a very effective form of marketing communications.


Joe Bourdow, president of Val-Pak Direct Marketing Systems, Largo, FL, said, "While we do not send out junk mail -- our content is highly geographically targeted -- all of our indications after 32 years of continued growth are that consumers want our mail."


Stephen Altobelli, a spokesman at the Direct Marketing Association, New York, said, "Direct mail is a very valuable means of communicating between marketers and consumers. It provides consumers with offers and information about products that they would not otherwise receive. And they can receive it in the convenience of their home."


In addition, Altobelli said, "Some people hate direct mail, but the fact of the matter is millions of people purchase billions of dollars worth of products from it."


While the survey indicated that a large majority of people at every educational level found junk mail irritating, irritation levels can be related to age, income and education. For example:


* Sixty-three percent of those 65 years and older and 58 percent of those ages 55 to 64 said junk mail irritates them a lot. But only 34 percent of those ages 18 to 24 and 40 percent of those ages 25 to 34 expressed this degree of irritation.


* Eighty-three percent of those with household incomes of at least $50,000 -- but only 71 percent of those with incomes less than $25,000 -- said junk mail irritates them a lot or a little.


* Eighty-one percent of those with a college degree said junk mail irritates them a lot or a little, but only 65 percent of those without a high school diploma were similarly bothered.


"One can speculate that those with more education are more irritated because they receive more junk mail than any other group," said Stephen Brobeck, executive director at the CFA, Washington.


The survey also examined the quality of the U.S. Postal Service and found that in general, 67 percent of respondents viewed the service they received from letter carriers as "very favorable." In addition, 65 percent viewed the delivery of mail they sent and received as very favorable. Brobeck said these favorable postal service numbers were statistically the same as last year.


"The high ratings consumers give to USPS services has changed little over the year," Brobeck said. "What this means is that we can have even more concrete confidence in the survey results."


The survey also found that the public believes postal rates should continue to be regulated and that the agency should not be allowed to act like a large, for-profit company.


For example, 77 percent of respondents said they favor disallowing the postal service to increase the current First-Class rate of 33 cents for letters without the approval of an independent commission. Fifty-five percent said they strongly favor this rate regulation.


Brobeck said the CFA commissioned the public opinion survey for two reasons: It believes that government services to consumers -- especially those that have received much criticism -- need public evaluations; and the USPS has been urging Congress to pass legislation that would give the postal service more pricing flexibility and would allow it to act like a for-profit company.


The CFA is a nonprofit association of 260 consumer groups that, since 1968, has sought to advance consumer interest through education and advocacy.


Opinion Research Corp. International, Princeton, NJ, conducted the second annual survey in May, as part of its weekly Caravan omnibus study.
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