The Internet Age Has Only Made Junk Mail Smarter And More Efficient

The Internet — and all the publicly available data it makes accessible to retailers — would seem to provide an end to old-fashioned junk mail. Businesses can market directly to consumers based on decisions they made moments earlier, rather than wasting money printing and sending mail. But real junk mail is trying to evolve.

The Wall Street Journal reports that direct mail companies are using the same newly available data on consumers to target them in smaller, more specific groups.

Instead of merely knowing your address and age, advertisers can break down things like average neighborhood income, if you’ve recently bought your home, family make-up, location to certain stores, and many other slices of information.

“Instead of having four campaigns, there can be dozens, created dynamically for different customer groups,” explains a rep for Infogroup Inc., a company that compiles such lists for advertisers.

(FYI, if you want to remove your information from Infogroup’s database, you can contact them at: contentfeedback@infogroup.com, however this won’t remove your information from all the public databases it and other companies use to compile these lists.)

This ability to produce smaller campaigns hasn’t really lessened the amount of junk mail that is being sent. The Journal points out that while first-class mail use is down by 33% over the last decade, the amount of direct mail has remained stable. And because of the drop in first-class mail, junk ads are now the majority of what shows up in U.S. mailboxes.

One analyst tells the Journal she doubts that even this level of targeted junk mail marketing can survive in the long-run. “Sure the data’s there—but what does having real-time [data] updates have to do with direct mail?” she asks. “Not that much.”