It's Time to Unveil America's Stealth Medium

The football season is here but imagine if no local paper or broadcast outlet covered the second quarter of each game. Would you think something was strange if a fourth of the action was never mentioned? Is it possible that you might miss the best play?

It seems like a curious idea -- until you look at advertising. Too often discussions about advertising leave out a fifth of all client activity -- those who market by mail.

This year, said Robert J. Coen, senior vice president and director of forecasting with Universal McCann, ad spending nationwide will amount to $263.3 billion. How much will go toward direct mail? A total of $51.5 billion will, according to Coen's June projections -- more than will be spent nationally and locally with newspapers.

But wait, aren't we entering the Internet era? Isn't mail finished as a medium?

As we tell folks, radio did not replace newspapers and TV did not replace radio. The Internet is here, it will get bigger and more important -- and 50 years from now citizens will still be reading the morning paper and checking mailboxes on the way home.



Consider the past decade. We've seen enormous online growth. Between 1993 and 2003 the U.S. population increased 13 percent, from 258 million people to291 million. And mail? Standard mail volume increased 37 percent from 65.8 billion pieces in fiscal 1993 to 90.4 billion pieces in fiscal 2003.

Ad mail continues to grow because people use it and like it. As the U.S. Postal Service explains, consumers read 78 percent of all ad mail, almost 10 percent respond to offers, and when they shop 21 percent take along their ad mail.

Mail also boosts online activity. The July "Multi-Channel Catalog Study" developed for the U.S. Postal Service by comScoreNetworks shows that "catalogs were found to be effective in driving more prospects into and through the sales funnel by increasing awareness, consideration, and actual purchase. Within the U.S. Postal Service study, catalog recipients made 16 percent more visits, viewed 22 percent more pages, and spent 15 percent more time at the retailer's Web site."

Rather than dissipating, the use of mail as an advertising and marketing medium in the Internet era will continue. Why? Because paper-based mail is a tactile medium in a digitized era -- you can touch mail, it's real, and it has dimension. Envelopes create a powerful sense of privacy. And mail can be targeted and segmented to reach the right audience - the very reason, for example, that Republicans (Voter Vault) and Democrats (Datamart) each have more than 165 million voters listed in their databases. (See: "The Very, Very Personal Is the Political," The New York Times, February 15,2004)

It's easy to stand out with mail. In the competition for consumer time and attention the mailbox remains sparse and uncluttered. Given 300 delivery days a year, 141 million mailing addresses and 202 billion pieces of mail annually, a typical recipient receives fewer than five items per day.

There's plenty of opportunity and need to use every media; they each have unique qualities, values, and characteristics. That said, the time has come to unveil America's stealth medium. There's more than $50 billion on the table for ad mail, so ignoring this huge medium makes no more sense than turning off the second quarter of every game.

Peter Miller welcomes your feedback at

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