Direct Mail Advertising Makes a Comeback

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Direct Mail Advertising Makes a Comeback

According to the Direct Marketing Association, U.S. commercial and nonprofit marketers spent about $170 billion on direct response marketing initiatives in 2012. That was just over half of all the ad expenditures in the United States.

The DMA's Response Rate 2012 Report reveals that 79 percent of overall respondents to the survey and 95 percent of nonprofit respondents used direct mail.1 In fact, "U.S. standard mail," often referred to as "junk mail," processed nearly 80 billion items in 2012.

USPS Mail by Class in Millions


While that volume is down 24 percent from 2008, almost all that decline occurred in the immediate aftermath of the financial panic, and volume has remained relatively constant ever since, despite rising postal rates.

That will come as a surprise to many. Since the World Wide Web burst upon our consciousness 20 years ago, the worlds of marketing and commerce have changed dramatically. Newspapers, magazines, and radio have declined, while television has fragmented. Today, marketers still struggle to quantify the payback on banner ads and emails, while striving to develop a winning formula for social media.

Back during the 1990s dot-com boom, it looked like there would be one sure casualty of this Darwinian competition for advertising dollars: direct mail. After all, it's slow, expensive, and reeks of "yesterday."

So, what's going on here?


Why is the "dinosaur of marketing media" persisting in the face of real-time interactive alternatives?

Part of the answer lies in the way that the brain responds to various media. In 2009, the UK-based research firm Millward Brown decided to investigate how the brain processes physical marketing materials, such as direct mail, compared to virtual or digital materials presented on a screen.2

Given the insights drawn from other forms of advertising research about the importance of emotion in driving marketing success, there was particular interest in understanding the emotional processing evoked by the different forms of media.

Working in collaboration with the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University, Millward Brown used functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery (fMRI) scanning to understand how the brain reacts to stimuli provided by physical media as opposed to virtual media.

Using fMRI scanning allows researchers to look directly at brain activity in order to see the brain regions most involved in processing advertising...

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