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Stupid Marketer Watch: When 'No' Means 'No'

7/29/14
 
By Ken Magill
 
Few are more vocal in defending direct marketing in most of its forms than I.
 
In fact, when the wife and I first met I explained to her: “We do not refer to direct mail as junk mail. The proper term is ‘unsolicited commercial correspondence.’”
 
Defending direct marketers isn’t always easy, though. Sometimes they embarrass me as they embarrass themselves.
 
Case in point: a recent column in the L.A. Times about a man who began receiving junk mail from Bank of America five years after having opted out of direct mail.
 
In this case, it really is junk mail.
 
“The letter Richard Knee received from Bank of America opened with a warning: ‘You may be missing out on valuable offers,’” began the column by David Lazarus.
 
"’According to our records, you are not being mailed offers from Bank of America because you have opted out of postal mail marketing offers,’ the letter said.”
 
“Happily for BofA, that's changing. It said that the preference made clear by Knee, 68, five years ago would expire this month. If he didn't opt out anew, the junk mail would start flowing again.
 
"’Why should I have to opt out again?’ the San Francisco resident asked me. ‘I already told them that I don't want their stuff cluttering my mailbox. The opt-out should be permanent.’
 
“It's a great point, and I agree completely. Yet BofA's marketing persistence illustrates a broader trend: Many businesses just won't take no for an answer.”
 
I generally don’t have a problem with any company sending anyone direct mail. The companies pay for the printing and postage and help create a bunch of jobs whether recipients respond or not.
 
But here’s the problem with sending Knee direct mail five years after he opted out.
 
He opted out. 
 
Where most people who don’t like direct mail just grouse to themselves and toss it, Knee made an effort to make it stop.
 
And so it should—for as long as Knee breathes air and consumes calories. 
 
If BofA was sending direct mail to “occupant” at Knee’s address it would be one thing. An “occupant” mailing could be explained as a statistical mailing based on how often the average U.S. citizen changes residences.
 
But BofA is apparently addressing Knee by name.
 
BofA is sending direct mail specifically to a guy who opted out. Consumers don’t “find” direct marketing the way some “find” Jesus and have a change of heart.
 
Those who don’t like DM generally don’t like it for life. And, frankly, they shouldn’t have to put up with it if they don’t want to.
 
And there’s a bigger picture.
 
BofA is damaging more than its own brand by sending direct mail to Knee. It’s damaging people’s perception of the entire direct-marketing profession. It’s spreading ill will toward a profession that really doesn’t need any more ill will with the consuming public than it already has.
 
Moreover, when enough people get irritated with direct marketing, lawmakers see further regulating the profession as an easy way to score points with voters. DMers will always be in legislative crosshairs. Why make it worse by mailing to someone who has raised his hand and said: “I will not respond” even if some stats somewhere say otherwise?
 
Most likely, BofA could have sent Knee a letter asking if he’d reconsider his preferences and drawn less ire. Yes, the response would be dismal. But direct-mail response rates with the Knees of this world are going to be dismal anyway.
 
I have defended direct marketing at more social functions than I can count.
 
BofA is not making defending direct marketing any easier.
 
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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Derek Harding
Date: 2014-07-31 12:29:31
Subject: Devil's advocate

To play devil's advocate for a minute. You don't need permission to send direct mail so why should you need permission to restart? Why should there even be a requirement that a business stop unless and until they choose to? If the business case is there for BofA to resume sending why shouldn't they? The recipient's preference was never requested in the first place and seems entirely irrelevant to BofA's business case. Buy data about current or potential customers then send them as much stuff as makes financial sense via whichever channels you find most effective. If they don't want to see it they should take steps not to see it, filter, throw in the trash, whatever, not the business's problem. Right?

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