It’s worse than junk mail: it’s stupid mail

People in direct marketing tend to get all huffy at the words 'junk mail.' Well, there's something worse. I call it 'stupid mail.'An outstanding example came to my door this fall. A mailing package that, for starters, had cost 86 cents...

People in direct marketing tend to get all huffy at the words ‘junk mail.’ Well, there’s something worse. I call it ‘stupid mail.’

An outstanding example came to my door this fall. A mailing package that, for starters, had cost 86 cents to mail.

The outer envelope was closed-face, personally addressed, identified a high-end retail store and declared that the contents were ‘Personal & Confidential.’


If I was expected to believe that, then I was also expected to believe that mine was the only envelope to have been pre-printed with this information.

Given that the vast majority of retail store communications consist of newspaper ads, at best, and throw-away sale flyers, at worst, this was a first-class package.

The main event was a multi-page mini-’catalogue’ featuring the store’s trendy fashions. No expense was spared – quality paper, metallic ink, graphic designs that in the social circles served by this particular store would probably be considered ‘cool.’

Frankly, it all left me a bit that way, too, cool, that is.

Inside, a ‘letter from the president,’ always a good way to establish that all-important relationship with the customer.

The president was most excited by the fact that, ‘We have come up with a new approach to pricing.’ He had my attention.

‘And the savings come to you in three different ways,’ the president’s letter continued.

Gee, I thought we were talking about a new approach to pricing. What we’re really talking about is savings?

Well, since savings is not a new concept, it must be the ‘three different ways’ that are novel.

Turned out the first was a ‘Privilege Card,’ the second, coupons, and the third was specially priced items – mark-downs by any other name.

Sure enough, the package also contained another envelope declaring the contents to be ‘Coupons & Gift Certificates’ and admonished me to ‘Spend them wisely.’

The difference between a coupon and a gift certificate was rather unclear, especially as both were designed to look like a pseudo-cheque.

Forgiveness for sins of design was easy once I calculated I had more than $2,000 worth of ‘savings’ in my hand. Now my attention was riveted.

The package also contained an elegant plastic ‘Privilege Card’ with an identifier number and a signature panel on the back.


The carrier the card was attached to announced that the card entitled me to: a 15% discount for purchases in excess of $2,500, the convenience of after-hours shopping, and free delivery anywhere in Toronto within 24 hours and anywhere in Canada within 48 hours.

All in all, not a bad collection of offers for a semi-regular customer to the store. Now comes the stupid part – also known as the fine print, terms and conditions, disclaimers, weasel clauses, etc.

The 15% ‘Privilege’ discount only applies to regular-priced items and is not applicable in conjunction with coupons or those specially priced items mentioned above.

I guess the privilege lies in paying regular price.

Further, the convenience of after-hours shopping requires 48 hours advanced notice.

And, the free delivery? Available for regular priced items only. Guess we know who’s really paying for that service.

Yes, this was all definitely a new approach to pricing. Especially considering I actually sat down and tried to figure it all out. That was the really stupid part.

Barbara Canning Brown, a 20-year veteran of the direct marketing industry, is a direct marketing consultant specializing in catalogues.