Americans hail a postman's junk-mail jihad
Numerous groups try to trim the burden of 100 billion pieces of mail a year.
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It turns out, though, that the solidly built Vietnam vet everyone knew as "Mailman Steve" had a secret: Around his yard and house investigators discovered the soggy remains of ... well ... junk mail. Instead of delivering the stuff, he'd spent years accumulating about a tractor-trailer's worth of pizza flyers and Victoria's Secret catalogs. The funny thing was: No one ever complained.
When a federal court in Raleigh, N.C., sentenced Padgett on Nov. 18 to three years of probation, a $3,000 fine, and 500 hours of community service for delaying and destroying mail, the judge nearly commended him. Locals thanked him and some out-of-towners went online to beg him to take over their routes. "He was our spam filter," says Tom Glembocki of Apex.
That outpouring suggests that Americans are eager to junk junk mail, which would explain the efforts now under way to create the equivalent of the five-year-old "Do Not Call Registry" for the 100 billion pieces of printed ads jammed into mailboxes each year.
This year, ForestEthics, a San Francisco-based forest-protection group, has collected more than 73,000 signatures for its "Do Not Mail Registry." Bills to control unwanted mail have been introduced in 19 states in the last two years, though none has yet passed. One website called the Office of Strategic Influence is urging Americans to send the industry a message by using the "No Postage Necessary" return envelopes to send bricks and old college textbooks straight back to Madison Avenue.
Perhaps sensing a shift in popular culture, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), which represents more than 3,000 companies, released in October DMAchoice, an upgraded version of a long time consumer opt-out program that tweaks mailing lists to make them more effective for advertisers and less onerous for consumers.
If anything, direct mail is becoming even more crucial for advertisers as newspapers – the king of ad carriers – decline and e-mail and Internet advertising prove themselves more effective in niche markets than mass outreach, Even in this difficult economy, the bulk mail market is expected to reach $176.9 billion this year, up 2.1 percent from 2007.
Furthermore, Americans are conflicted about junk mail.
On the one hand, they're conscious of the waste. The direct mail industry contributes as much greenhouse gas to the atmosphere each year as would 20 billion people mowing their lawns at the same time, estimates ForestEthics.