Media: A Moment with Marquis

Royal Mail is running an execution in its current trade press campaign that, to my mind, misses a number of key points. The full-page photo features a brass letterbox on a smart, black front door. On the letterbox are the words: "There's no 'off' switch on a letterbox."

In this age of multimedia, integrated planning, implying that other media (those that sport off-switches, presumably) are somehow inferior is disturbingly behind the times. Knocking copy will cut no ice with today's planners.

Contrast with the Radio Advertising Bureau's approach - to show how effective radio is in conjunction with other media.

Then there is the copy : "A letterbox is always ready and waiting to entertain." I guess this is meant to be wryly humorous but it just sounds incredible to me.

The real problem with the ad is that actually - thank God - there is an "off" switch on a letterbox, created, as it happens, by the Direct Marketing Association and called the Mailing Preference Service.

The MPS is a free service provided by the industry body for people who do not wish to be "entertained" by unsolicited mail. The MPS claims to be able to relieve subscribers of as much as 95 per cent of direct mail by taking their names off mailing lists. It is a necessary courtesy extended by a large and successful industry to those consumers who find the volume of unsolicited mail oppressive.

The Royal Mail ad, on the other hand, seems to positively embrace oppression.

The copy continues: one-third of people will put their mail "to one side to act like an in-home salesman, where it can engage, inform and persuade. Again. And again." I can think of nothing more surreally horrible than an in-home salesman persuading me again and again. Do people really act that way?

The direct mail industry is now worth countless millions, one of the most successful and effective media there is. Its key supplier, the Royal Mail, is an integral part of that success and has every right to promote itself positively - which it usually does. You will note that I have avoided the term "junk mail" because it is nothing more than a pejorative over-simplification. But the content and tenor of this particular ad do little to encourage a more generous view of direct mail, merely bringing to mind the very aspect of the medium - its sometimes unwanted intrusiveness - that it must strive ceaselessly to minimise. I'm not switching my letterbox off yet, but don't tempt me.


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