The Secret Power of Junk Mail

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Annabelle Gurwitch, spokesperson for the “Do Not Mail Registry” and host of Planet Green’s WA$TED, and Jerry Cerasale, Senior Vice President of government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association, debate the virtues of junk mail.


Jerry Cerasale and Annabelle Gurwitch

Comments [52]

Larry from New Jersey

Not sure if this anecdote is true but I like it anyway. I understand a man in Montana or Wyoming has signed up for many, many catalogs and uses them in his small home to heat the place during the fuel delivered by the USPS!!

Jul. 16 2008 02:02 PM
j from nyc

re[14] : credit card companies use a completely different optOut system than the USPS list [are they special there too?..] [of course! they are]
you have to call them directly [try getting a human, first] maybe even a manager, or just goto an affiliated bank branch, and get a form sent to your house for the info. You can do it over the phone, with the SS info, but that doesn't work completely either, although i haven't received promo info from financial seminars in awhile.
and the DMA list does work pretty well too. i did it years ago, and except for places i directly bought from, no problems. ALSO, Home Depot will sell your email info if you enter a contest, and now i regularily get spam mail from those nigerian 419'ers. my spam meter usually takes care of it. usually.

Jul. 16 2008 12:09 PM
David! from NYC

@33--interesting idea, but one thought makes me shudder:

long lines at bank + long lines at post office = line long enough for me to stand in until I retire

I love ATMs and AutoMail Centers

Jul. 16 2008 12:07 PM
Megan from New York City

I know I am late in the conversation, but I was driving to the office during your junk mail segment and really would like to comment. I think it is worthwhile to point out that the sustainability of natural resources is something we have yet to perfect, and discussion of paper as a renewable resource, as one of your guests suggested, is not quite on the mark. Yes, trees can be regrown and papaer can be recyled - but forests used for paper include much more than just trees! I am a Canadian forester, and would like to comment that the newsprint we use has posed numerous political and enviornmental impacts in areas where people stillt raditionally hunt for the bulk of their protein, and where battles with logging campanies of land use rights to hunting groups, burial grounds endure. Although Canadian forest practices have made huge leaps and bounds, it is not yet a perfect system. In addition, recylcing newsprint is a caustic process, and expensive! Look how much of NYC's paper goes right to the dumpster!! We need to imporve forest practices, clean up the recycling process and effluent from paper mills, and recyle more paper in NYC. AND we need to reduce junk mail. Thanks!!

Jul. 16 2008 12:01 PM
jonjon from New York

Naseem makes the good point that ever since I gave money to WNYC, I've gotten bombarded with junk-mail from left-leaning non-profits. I never made that connection before, but now I realized that WNYC sold my name! Never again will I donate to WNYC!!

Jul. 16 2008 11:43 AM
Bankrupt USA


sorry about that :(

They are likely buying the name from someone else, so the poor clerk who gets your letter is kind of powerless; keep writing them and also target the list sellers in the links on the "Do Not Mail" website that Bryan linked to

It is worth your time/sanity.

Jul. 16 2008 11:24 AM
paul peacock from new york city

like i said, late to the party -

planet green is a good organization. the DMA is not a bad organization either, actually. they are trying and make good points - see the website.

the real issue is, i think, is how to reduce /paper/ for delivery of marketing mail. isn't it? the rare woods and so on? even logging of good old- actually young - regular wood?

so design-tweak with the massive databases the DMA members already to chop data and create opt-in programs by email or land mail, depending on whether recips. have access to email or not - very important.

Jul. 16 2008 11:23 AM
Bankrupt USA

@David "I don't think there is an escape"

You can. Look at this as a hard headed choice to invest your time in eliminating it. You will reap a bigger dividend in return by not having to handle the junk mail. It is worth the time. It will further enhance your privacy & happiness.

A particularly good time to do it is if you ever move to a new address, you can follow the tips above and be 99% junk mail free. TRUTH

Jul. 16 2008 11:22 AM
Pat from Brooklyn

Shortly after my husband died, 5 years ago, he started receiving catalogues from The Children's Place. I've repeatedly written to them and called them to let them know he's dead (and there are no small children in the household anyway), and have also registered my late husband as deceased with the DMA, and nothing has worked. They still keep sending him catalogs!

Jul. 16 2008 11:17 AM
David! from NYC

To our knowledge, my wife's ex- has never lived in New York, yet about once a month or so, we receive junk mail addressed to his name at our address. They haven't had contact with one another since they divorced five years ago in Florida. I don't think there is an escape.

Jul. 16 2008 11:12 AM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

To post #26:

I don't exist to make other people money.
I have gotten tons, tons, and more tons of junk mail in the past twenty, thirty years. I have gotten solicitations from organizations even after I have already given them money! You know what I do with all this crap? I toss it into the recycling basket, unopened and unread.
Listen, I don't drive a car. Think how the auto industry is being "damaged" by a person like me. And I don't smoke. Think how the tobacco industry and all the businesses that depend on selling tobacco is being hurt by a person like me.
Oh well...

Jul. 16 2008 11:11 AM
Bankrupt USA

You all:

Read Waldo's comment above. This is about our emotions too! Junk mail makes you less happy as you are bombarded by solicitations that you do not control. (All the cognitive science research into happiness, like Seligman, concludes this.)

You can be JOYFUL, like I am, when I go to my mailbox and open it ...maybe I got a letter or a postcard?! Remember how that once felt?

Jul. 16 2008 11:06 AM
RosieNYC from NYC

Regarding the USPS, I am sorry but if whoever is running it and working for it has not realized yet that snail-mail is going the way of the vinyl record or the typewriter and have started taken steps toward finding a different kind of job via education, then they deserve to lose their jobs. It is called progress. The same way horse-drawn coaches disappeared when trains came along, USPS will eventually be eliminated by its electronic cousin. And just like horse-drawn coach drivers had to find a different job, so will USPS workers. Sorry, but saying that *we need to keep junk mail to keep the USPS alive* is not a valid argument. If the USPS can't adapt then maybe its time to be discontinued has come. This kind of reasoning is why it took us so long to deploy EZPass. If you can't adapt to progress then you deserve to lose your job. I am tired of dealing with junk mail or toll booths or full-service gas stations, and seeing natural resources decimated so we can keep some people employed.

Jul. 16 2008 11:06 AM
Andrea from Jersey City

They make it sound as if growing trees for paper production is a benign activity. It isn't a matter of thinning trees in existing forests. I have seen huge commercial groves in Brazil - they are comprised of fast-growing, non-indigenous trees - nothing grows under or around them and they do not support wildlife of any kind.

Jul. 16 2008 11:06 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

Ah, Naseem, I didn’t see your post until after I posted and I have to agree. Since WNYC decided to profit off of my information on top of my larger than average pledge, I’m inclined to not renew. The problem does start at home.

Jul. 16 2008 11:02 AM
thatgirlinnewyork from manhattan

direct mail does NOT subsidize the post office. because of the added expense of moving all that junk mail, postal rates for normal citizens is high. direct mail companies only pay a fraction ("bulk rate") of what we do to move this junk. your guest is in denial. people have the right to opt out of what they do not ask for voluntarily.

i found that more junk followed me each time i moved, believing that my (renters') insurance co, real estate folk, etc. sell my info. so i don't use post office forwarding any more, preferring to tell only who i want to receive mail from my new location. it works tremendously well.

Jul. 16 2008 11:02 AM
Bankrupt USA


political organizations are horrible at this too; any they get some special exemptions


you have got to do the "insertion" tip mentioned above -- put in fake middle initials, or extras in your address when you give it out like Apt. 29PB or PB for your middle initial if you give your address to, say, Pottery Barn

then start chopping away!!! it can be fun!

Jul. 16 2008 11:01 AM
Waldo from Manhattan

If I make a contribution to a worthy organization they begin sending me solicitations for more money -- then they sell my name to another organization, so now I'm getting mail from 2, then 3, then 4 outfits. I'm am so overwhelmed with mail from worthy causes that I just shred EVERYTHING. I just can't stand it.

Jul. 16 2008 11:01 AM
D from NYC

Why not charge the direct-mail advertisers MORE to mail out their junk instead of LESS? Bulk mail is much cheaper than what the rest of us pay! And maybe they should also be charged to dispose of their junk as well...

Jul. 16 2008 11:01 AM
Nicole Efros from Manhattan

In other countries, the postal service offers other services such as bank accounts. Why not force our postal service to find useful services to offer?

Jul. 16 2008 11:00 AM
Mark from Midtown East

Two Comments:

Junk mail may account for 1/3 of the postal revenues, but it's probably 1/2 of their controllable expenses such fuel costs and labor. I watch each day as the carrier spends minutes putting flyers in each of the 46 mailboxes in our building.

For me, worse than catalogs, are the scores of solicitations for credit cards. With all the identify theft going on, why do the banks keeps sending so many of these offers? Because it's cheap to do! If they'd have to pay first class postage for each piece, maybe they'd think twice.

Jul. 16 2008 11:00 AM
O from Forest Hills

Hasn't there been a reduction in junk mail with the recession? The only catalogues I get are Victoria's Secret, which I want because I order from their regularly.

Jul. 16 2008 10:59 AM
Ilka Peck from upper west side

I just tuned in, so perhaps you've covered this, but I and my friends now drop all of the
"fall out" subscription coupons from magazines into the mailbox with nothing written on them, in the hope that if the magazine has to pay enough for these, they'll include only those that are attached to the magazine!

Jul. 16 2008 10:59 AM
Erika Hanson from New York, NY

Please elucidate the real issue behind the piles of paper. It's not just about "saving trees". Every step in the life cycle of a piece of paper -- manufacturing, printing, recycling or disposal -- every step involves using energy and creating pollution. The guests are missing a key point here. Don't trivialize the environmental impact.

Jul. 16 2008 10:58 AM
chris from NYC

If the PO is losing so much money, maybe they should stop doing things like being Olympic sponsors? Or selling those stupid "gift items" like stationary etc which I believe is also a money loser

Jul. 16 2008 10:58 AM
Laura from Nyack NY

I get a perverse pleasure out of taking 90% of my mail straight from the mailbox to the recycle bn... but it's a pleasure I'd happily do without.

Jul. 16 2008 10:58 AM
jimmy_higgins from LES

Eliminating "junk mail" means every independent magazine goes out of business tomorrow. I work for a popular, beloved leftwing magazine. It could not exist without direct mail subscription promotions. Kiss your WNYC "buy back" fundraising good-bye as well.

Jul. 16 2008 10:58 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

Unfortunately, this also seems to be a problem with WNYC. I mysteriously started getting lots of JUNK mail from several nonprofits (yes, even if for a good cause, it’s still junk if I don’t want it) after becoming a member.

Jul. 16 2008 10:58 AM

My mother has been dead 13 years yet we get pre-approved applications for credit cards almost daily.

Jul. 16 2008 10:57 AM
hjs from 11211

letters across the country?
what's a letter??

Jul. 16 2008 10:57 AM
Naseem from Brooklyn

Perhaps WNYC should share, in the interest of full disclosure, that whenever someone donates to a WNYC membership drive, their name and address is shared with the Direct Marketing Assocation -- and there is no opt-out option.

Since I donated to WNYC last year, I've gotten a mountain of junk mail from non-profit orgs, all of whom claim to have gotten my info. from WNYC. I regret donating and I will never donate again.

Brian, considering that you think junk mail is an important issue, maybe you should bring up WNYC's involvement in the problem. Change starts at home.

Jul. 16 2008 10:57 AM
Bankrupt USA

@ Adam

that is good stuff; by law, the credit reporting agencies have to have an 800 number (it is printed on any credit solicitation you receive) this will stop those offers...

your action is a "must do"

Jul. 16 2008 10:57 AM
Janice Fellegara

Can you please ask the DMA respresentative to speak about their "do not mail" list. As a direct marketer, I use this list to suppress names from the lists that I rent to promote.

Jul. 16 2008 10:56 AM
Dennis VanBruinisse

You mentioned that junk mail accounts for 30% of the revenue for the USPS but I wonder how much COST does junk mail represent to the USPS? What is the value of America's TIME wasted on filtering junk mail to the garbage?

Jul. 16 2008 10:55 AM
Pearl Gill from Mount Vernon, Ny

Why does a company, after sending me catalogs for over a year and I do not order anything, continue to send me catalogs?

Jul. 16 2008 10:55 AM
spnyc from Washington Heights

I'm constantly requesting not to receive junk mail, but still do. I have to have a dedicated area in my home to collect unsolicited mail and a shredder to get rid of my personal information on that mail. It's an additional house-keeping task that I really resent because I didn't ask for it and didn't make the mess. I've been recycling for years, even before it was trendy, I use re-usable shopping bags and still get laughed at by supermarket check out assistants!

Jul. 16 2008 10:55 AM
logan from east village

I have called every company that puts junk mail on my door and NONE of them stop putting it on my stoop. I have signs that say I don't want it on the door, i ask the people when I see them, they just don't care, they keep delivering it.

Please support "Do not mail" legislation.

Jul. 16 2008 10:54 AM
jonjon from New York

How many times is this woman going to mention her show, "Wasted"? Sorry, I have no interest in watching more t.v. drivel.

Jul. 16 2008 10:54 AM
adam from nyc

i opt'd out by calling a toll free number on a at&t solicitation last night. felt odd having to enter my ss# into an automated system. it said it would stop mail sent with regard to my credit rating for 5 years. hope this stops amex and master card.

Jul. 16 2008 10:53 AM
Seth Mosler from nyc

How much CO2 can we save by not going to the dentist?

Jul. 16 2008 10:53 AM
J.C. from Minneapolis

Small revenge against junk mailers: when I get unwanted offers, I mail back the empty "Business Reply Mail" envelope. Then they get charged for postage but they don't get a customer (not an original idea--I read about it in a newspaper somewhere).

Jul. 16 2008 10:53 AM
Susan from Maplewood, NJ

We LOVE CatalogChoice.
Finally emptied our mailbox!
I shop ONLINE!!! and keep a good bookmark list.
We don't ask for catalogs and DON'T READ THEM!

Jul. 16 2008 10:52 AM
O from Forest Hills

Classic example that companies if left to regulate themselves, don't do it. They won't recognize voluntarily these 3rd party registries. We need government regulation of companies.

Jul. 16 2008 10:51 AM
Tom from Upper West Side

While postage for first-class mail rises non-stop (Just look at for how many years 3 cents was the standard!), junk mailers benefit from reduced that the tax payers are actually subsidizing the advertising, most of which to any particular household is not needed or wanted.

Jul. 16 2008 10:51 AM
Mary is a terrific site for eliminating unwanted catalogs.

Jul. 16 2008 10:50 AM
exlege from brooklyn

raise the price of the stamp and eliminate junk mail. It is a waste of resources. I get way too much. It contributes to garbage.

Jul. 16 2008 10:49 AM
Bankrupt USA


The "Do Not Mail" effort looks good, but please bring up the idea of "preemptive" junk mail reduction, not merely "reactive".

The key in the preemptive tips given above is to NEVER GET ON THE LIST, and when you do react -- stamp it out like a cockroach because they breed quickly!!!

Jul. 16 2008 10:44 AM
Bankrupt USA

@Liv that is scary!

i would cut out the address portion, write on it "deceased" -- i am sorry about this but i don't know how else you'll get it out of their database -- and send this back to the originating address

Jul. 16 2008 10:34 AM

My DAD gets junk mail at my home. He swears he's never used my address for anything, so I was wondering if somehow a connection between our last names has been made and that's what started the flow. My mother gets stuff as well.

Jul. 16 2008 10:28 AM
Bankrupt USA

- everytime you initiate a commercial relationship, tell them "do not share my information with any related OR third parties"; particularly with all of your bank/financial relationships

the aforementioned tips will eliminate 95% of your junk mail :)

Jul. 16 2008 10:21 AM
Bankrupt USA

- never change your address with USPS ...they SELL your name and new address!

- never give your phone number at a store like Container Store...they use reverse lookup, and Bingo! you are for sale again

- stick in unique identifiers when you give your a weird middle initial...tell them not to share your info. ; if they do, go BALLISTIC

...i got junk mail from the NY Times from my voter registration with NYC (methinks illegal due to the HAVA Act = Help America Vote Act)

Jul. 16 2008 10:18 AM

Are the disciples taking up collections for their patron saint of Junk Mail, Ed McMahon, since his recent bankruptcy? (Hope so!)

Jul. 16 2008 09:45 AM

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