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Viewers unimpressed by Panorama ‘junk mail’ episode

05 Jul 2011 5:25 BST Back
Viewers unimpressed by Panorama ‘junk mail’ episode

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BBC's Panorama programme (4 July) has come under fire for its report on the so-called ‘junk mail’ industry.

Viewers expressed their confusion over the programme’s treatment of the issues surrounding scam mail and junk mail through social media platforms, such as Twitter.

Tweeters using the hash tag #panoramamail were quick to point out that the two issues are unrelated – one is a criminal activity, the other is legitimate advertising. 

Many more were critical of the programme’s sensationalist tone and challenged the programme’s claim that unwanted and used advertising mail costs the British taxpayer £50 million per year to dispose of.

Critics pointed out that it was a figure extrapolated from Cornwall County Council’s estimated cost of disposal, which was based on landfilling a variety of waste paper not just advertising mail – and is not necessarily typical of other councils across the country.  

Others also queried why Cornwall Council is putting recyclable mail into landfill, and that taxpayers should incur no additional cost when there are schemes in place to collect and recycle all forms of waste paper.

The DMA’s Chris Combemale, who was interviewed for the show, said that he was disappointed with the confusion of the issues the programme promised to deal with.

“Junk and scam mail are both challenges our industry must face up to, but I thought it was unfortunate that the programme lumped them all together and tarred our industry with the same brush.

“Scam mail is illegal and plainly wrong. And of course we agree badly targeted, unwanted mail needs to be eliminated. As an industry, we are making progress to tackle both problems.” 

Combemale added:

“I was pleased, however, that the programme did carry some facts about the legitimate advertising mail industry, such as the fact that now 76% of all unwanted and used mail is recycled and generates £16bn of sales for UK companies.”

The DMA has produced a fact sheet on the advertising mail industry. Click here to view or please scroll down.

The facts and figures about advertising mail  

How damaging is advertising mail to the environment?

We agree wastage from advertising mail needs to be reduced and the DMA has been helping the industry shape up.

In 2003, Defra set the industry the target of ensuring that 70% of all used advertising mail is recycled by 2013. This target was smashed four years early in 2009, with 76% of advertising mail being recycled. 

Since 2003, the volume of advertising mail now being sent to landfill every year has fallen by 80%. Now, advertising mail represents just 0.4% of the average household’s unrecycled waste. 

What is the industry doing to clean up its act?

The DMA and BSi have produced an environmental standard called PAS 2020, which provides the guidelines for producing environmentally sustainable advertising mail.

Targeting practices are continually improving, meaning that excess advertising mail is not produced.

The Mailing Preference Service is an industry funded scheme for householders to opt out of receiving unwanted advertising mail. More than five million households are now registered – nearly 20% of all households. 

I’ve never bought anything from junk mail. Does it really work?

Really, you’ve never redeemed a coupon you’ve received in the post? The vast majority of people have. 

Advertising mail works; if it didn’t then companies would not spend money on it. According to the Mail Media Centre, 17.7 million people bought something after receiving a mail order catalogue in the past 12 months.  

Every year, advertising mail generates £16 billion in sales – a massive contribution to UK plc at a time when high street retailers are suffering.

For the majority of businesses, it’s the only form of advertising they can afford. Most companies can’t afford to pay for TV, radio, billboard, or newspaper ads. 

People hate receiving junk mail, so why bother sending it?

Research conducted by Royal Mail shows that the majority of people still prefer to be contacted by mail by the businesses they’re customers of, than by any other method of communication: for example, 46% of BT customers prefer to be contacted by mail, compared to 22% by email; 50% of Churchill’s customers prefer to be contacted by mail, compared to 20% who prefer to be contacted by email.

There’s plenty of research to show that the majority of consumers welcome receiving advertising mail that provides them with exclusive offers on products they like. For example, research by BMRB reveals that 75% of consumers like receiving special offers and vouchers through the post. The same research also reveals that consumers like mail alerting them to new products and services they might want to try, etc

While many people conduct their lives online, there are still plenty of people who don’t. Advertising mail is a source of information on products and services they might not otherwise have access to. 

The delivery of poorly targeted mail – ‘junk mail’ – is unacceptable. The industry now has sophisticated data collection methods and data cleaning tools, so there is no excuse for sending poorly targeted mail. And, it’s not in the interest of businesses to waste money and annoy consumers with badly targeted mail. 

Why should the taxpayer have to foot the bill for disposing junk mail?

The majority (76% at last count in 2009) of advertising mail is now recycled, and so doesn’t go into costly landfill.

The cost of disposing adverting mail is more than offset by the industry’s contribution to the economy. UK businesses spend £11.2 billion on advertising mail every year and it generates £16 billion in sales.

Also, the advertising mail industry is responsible for an estimated 280,000 jobs, all of whom are taxpayers of course.

Why should Royal Mail be allowed to profit from delivering junk mail?    

Royal Mail actually loses 6.4p per item of stamped mail that it delivers. The average household now spends less than 40p on postage per week. Royal Mail can’t survive on this revenue alone. Advertising mail provides 25% of Royal Mail’s revenue and therefore subsidises the postal service. (Source: Hooper Report / Postcomm)

Consumers accept that commercial TV, radio, online, free press are funded and subsidised by advertising. However, consumers don’t understand the fact that advertising provides them with an economical postal service.

Also, consumers can’t blame the messenger if they receive mail they don’t like. Royal Mail has a legal obligation to deliver the mail.

Posted by

Neil Turner

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