The future of direct mail and advertising intrusiveness

Ted Grigg posted some interesting thoughts recently about the impact of direct mail vs. online advertising.

Due to its escalating cost, more demanding execution and relative rarity, direct mail appeals garner more attention from recipients than the same messages found in their crowded email inboxes. With the explosive growth of email, printed direct mail has now gained more respect among consumers.

In addition, direct mail is more intrusive than the Internet that relies 100% on the consumer to access the advertiser’s web site.

There are two important points I’d like to make about this.

First, I agree that direct mail carries a powerful punch. And I have no doubt that it will become more effective as time goes on, despite any new technologies that may arise, perhaps because of new technologies.

As online opportunities multiply and consumers turn their ire away from “junk mail” and toward “spam,” we’ll see consumer attitudes about mail become more and more favorable. People have short memories and can only hate so many things at one time. As they hate spam more, they’ll love direct mail more.

Second, there’s that word, “intrusive.” I love online advertising and agree with the idea of opt-in as a necessary strategy, but a pernicious misconception is evolving out of the online community that this idea should apply to all forms of advertising, that no one should ever be exposed to sales messages that they don’t ask for.


Advertising MUST be intrusive. Marketing demands it. Our industry, indeed our entire economy, relies on it. Advertising cannot be passive. It must push messages as aggressively as possible. How could you introduce new products and services otherwise? There’s a reason companies hire sales people — because they push. Advertising is simply salesmanship in print (or sounds or images).

Can you imagine being forbidden to mail anything unless someone specifically asked for it? How many businesses would survive if they were prevented from running ads, putting up billboards, broadcasting radio or TV spots, distributing literature, or otherwise pushing messages without express permission from potential customers?

No one wants to waste money on unresponsive prospects. But we must be careful about misapplying the opt-in idea. Better targeting is what we need, not the mindless and idealistic idea to eradicate intrusiveness.

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10 Responses to “The future of direct mail and advertising intrusiveness”

  1. Ted Grigg on December 4th, 2007 2:08 pm


    As usual you strengthen what I wrote. Thanks for the post and reference.

    I wrote a brief blog entitled: “Direct Marketing Sells by Disrupting.”

    Disruption represents the strength of traditional media and by comparison, the largest weakness of new media as an acquisition tool.

    They both have their place. But marketers should ponder this idea when developing their marketing strategies.

  2. Ryan Cote on December 4th, 2007 3:02 pm

    I agree with you. If direct mail is done right, it’s not intrusive. Meaning, you’re mailing to targeted lists.

    If I’m interested in the product or service being mailed to me, I might not buy, but I will look.

    But like you said, advertising must be slightly intrusive.

    Everyone is in their own trance, and you must find a way to break this trance and present your offer…

    …and a slightly intrusive, but targeted direct mail campaign will usually do the trick.


  3. Dean Rieck on December 4th, 2007 3:56 pm


    Just to be clear, I wouldn’t say that advertising must be “slightly” intrusive. I’m flat out saying it must be “intrusive.”

    Maybe this is semantics, but I don’t define intrusive as irritating. I simply define it as unexpected, un-asked for, or, as you say, something that “breaks the trance.”

  4. Suzanne Obermire on December 4th, 2007 4:15 pm

    I have to disagree here. More and more, consumers are expecting that the companies they do business with anticipate their needs and understand how they want to be communicated to/with. If marketers piss consumers off too much (potentially by being too intrusive), they do remember and they stop buying. They have been conditioned by DNC and opt-out in the online world, and that isn’t going away anytime soon. Nor is that pesky privacy legislation…

    Our goal as direct marketers should be to get a handle on how to best communicate with our customers/prospects. We need to solicit their preferences and we need to honor their wishes (even if they never want to hear from us).

    Of course, this is all easier said than done :)

    Thanks for starting this discussion. Great food for thought.

  5. Dean Rieck on December 4th, 2007 5:05 pm


    You’re talking about businesses communicating with current customers. I’m talking primarily about businesses having the ability to prospect for new customers.

    I’m in favor of privacy regulations and abide by them, for my own efforts and for those of my clients.

    But the fear I’m expressing in my short rant is that we might go so far with the “opt-in, opt-out, don’t dare communicate with me unless I specifically ask for it thing” that we put an unnecessary stranglehold on marketing.

    If I’m selling something and you’ve never heard of me, I want to be sure I can be intrusive enough to jump up and down and say, “Hey, Suzanne, look what I have. You might like this. Wanna try it?”

    In short, privacy rules are good … but only to a point. We didn’t build the most powerful economy in the world by being shy about marketing.

  6. Ted Grigg on December 4th, 2007 6:16 pm

    How many times have you wanted to punch out your TV for intruding on your favorite movie with another lousy advertisement? Even branders who are concerned about their delicate reputations must intrude on both customers and prospects alike to tell their stories.

    When was the last time you were interrupted by a sales call at home or by a car salesman when you just wanted to examine that new car?

    Are these overt intrusions? Absolutely. Does the customer and prospect generally like them? No, they don’t. But they still buy from these companies and these salespeople. And those companies who do not do this exceedingly well die.

    Let’s face it. You can’t sell in a capitalistic society without, … well, selling!

    So as much as we want to remain courteous and welcome in the customer’s or prospect’s mind, there is rarely a welcoming mat when we do so. And to fool ourselves into believing otherwise is being intellectually dishonest.

  7. Mike on December 5th, 2007 10:10 am

    Interesting topic and discussion here. I agree, Dean, that advertising, by definition, has to be intrusive in order to reach new buyers (or remind old buyers that they still exist). But clearly advertising is changing and will have to continue to adapt to consumers’ tastes.

    We all know about Tivo, and satellite radio, and pop-up blockers, and similar innovations that allow consumers to skip ads. So companies are changing their tactics by sponsoring bowl games, placing products in movies, creating viral campaigns, using search engine marketing, and more.

    Meanwhile, in the direct mail market, companies plow on with new tactics like sending FedEx letters, using creative postcard designs, etc.

    Essentially it’s an ever-evolving process and marketers have the challenging job of not “pissing people off” as Suzanne said, and yet still getting their name into people’s minds. Ultimately, the companies that do the best job of producing products/services that consumers find worth talking about amongst their peers will have the most success… better than any direct mail or advertising campaign can ever do.

  8. Mark on December 6th, 2007 7:24 am

    I think it’s the Catch 22 of advertising and marketing. We all hate advertising except when it’s selling something we like, when we go: “Wow! How cool is that? I gotta have one of those.” Or: “Gee, I never even knew they made a tool like that. Must get one this weekend.”

    I think I’d prefer the phrase “attention grabbing” rather than intrusive, but I agree with your point.

    But as you say, how would we ever know these things existed if marketing didn’t grab our attention.

  9. The far future of standard mail « Postal Sanity (SM) on September 6th, 2009 7:11 pm

    [...] with the result that many do not even notice these annoying online ads anymore.  We agree that direct mail has currently still a bigger impact.  But we somehow doubt that this will still be the case in 40 or 50 years from [...]

  10. Jeff C on January 13th, 2010 11:27 am

    Direct Mail Intrusive?
    How can you say that because a piece of paper is in your authorized US government mail receptacle that its being intrusive? Hello, have we as a society become so lazy that we won’t expend the energy to go to the Trash Can to throw something that we don’t want away? OH my goodness, what is next? The jar that the spaghetti sauce comes in is made of glass, so I really don’t care about recycling, I think I won’t buy spaghetti sauce anymore! COME ON! if your in Sales, Marketing or Advertising for a LIVING we live, breathe, and do everything possible to Get the CUSTOMER’s Attention! NOW that I have everyone’s attention! DIRECT MAIL is the only advertising medium that all you have to do is go to the trash can or the shredder if you don’t want the product or your not interested in the offer! Turn the channel if you don’t want to be bothered with television advertising! Turn your Ipod on if you don’t want to hear radio commercials. I am so sick and tired of the whining and complaining about advertising! Direct mail! Direct mail is measurable, targetable
    and you have the ability to modify your message without spending $1,000′s of dollars for making changes! Thank a US Postal Worker for delivering your messages for the minimal costs that the USPS charges! If people don’t change their attitude maybe the USPS starts charging a monthly delivery charge for the delivery of your marketing messages!

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