Anthrax threatens DM industry

As the rise of anthrax cases in the U.S. feeds into terror about further biological attacks through the mail, direct marketers have been forced to react to the situation, which obviously strikes the heart of their industry.

As the rise of anthrax cases in the U.S. feeds into terror about further biological attacks through the mail, direct marketers have been forced to react to the situation, which obviously strikes the heart of their industry.

In Canada, the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) sent out an e-mail bulletin to its 800 members on Oct. 16 with suggestions on how to handle the issue, following a similar action from the Direct Marketing Association south of the border. Among the CMA’s recommendations: avoid the use of plain envelopes, print clear return addresses on all mail, and offer a toll-free number or Web site address on the package in order to alleviate apprehension.

John Gustavson, president of the CMA, points out that companies must also be set up to answer questions about the mailings. ‘They need to make sure that when a customer does take advantage of the ability to go to a call centre or Web site, that customer service reps are prepared.’

But consumer anxiety about unfamiliar letters is a great concern to many direct marketers who purposefully don’t print return addresses on envelopes. The belief is that this strategy helps them avoid the garbage bin.

‘This practice has to be abandoned completely,’ says Gustavson, who admits the industry will see a decline in response rates as a result of the anthrax threat. ‘People will be afraid of opening envelopes and the more reassurance you could give them on the envelope, the better.’