Sending Back Protest Messages In Pre-Paid Credit Card Envelopes Isn't Going To Occupy Wall Street One Bit

A YouTube video has racked up over 300,000 hits promoting the idea that you can really mess with the banks by sending back activist messages in those pre-paid response envelopes that come with the credit card junk mail. The theory is that if enough people do it, it will force people in the bank mailrooms to have a meeting about all these Occupy Wall Street slogans showing up in their mail, and making banks engage in a dialogue with their customers, revolutionizing how they operate to a way that’s more responsive to the common good. This is a terrible idea and a waste of time.

As much as I may appreciate the video’s sentiment, the mail gets processed by outside contractors , it doesn’t go into the bank mailroom. There’s not going to be a meeting. Anything that doesn’t fit the marketing response lead generation criterion is going to get thrown in the trash. They’re a direct marketing facility, they don’t care about dialogue.

Putting weird heavy and crumbly crap in letters may mess up the mail sorting machines at the post office, which is why most postmasters try to intercept that stuff. If a prepaid postage envelope is used for other than its intended purpose – the classic example popularized in Abbie Hoffman’s “Steal This Book” is taping it to a brick – the post office can treat it as “waste” and toss it. They’re highly motivated to keep items like this out of the mail.

And, as I wrote back in 2007, under Post Office Domestic Mail Manual code 8.4.6, business return mail (BRM) can only be used the way junk mailers intend them. The regulation reads, “BRM may not be used for any purpose other than that intended by the permit holder, even when postage is affixed. In cases where a BRM card or letter is used improperly as a label, the USPS treats the item as waste.”

Finally, the notion that if enough of these envelopes come in the bank will have to meet about it, “and an hour spent making them react to us is an hour less they spend foreclosing and lobbying,” …is just plain wrong. Even if this meeting did happen, it won’t draw any resources away from the parts of the bank handling the foreclosure and lobbying efforts.

If you want to change the system, you need to know how it works first.

Something that might make an actual difference is opting out of most junk mail offers through dmachoice.org. The other thing to do is move your deposits away from bad actor banks and into a smaller bank that’s more responsive to the needs of the community it serves. Then, vote in your next election.

(Thanks to c-side!)