Four years ago, the Labour Government commissioned the Waste Strategy for England 2007 report, which included recommendations on measures to limit direct marketing. The report stated that, “much direct marketing is unnecessary and wasteful,” and claimed it was costing the taxpayer between £15 - £30 million a year to dispose of it.
According to the Panorama episode, “Why hate junk mail?”, broadcast in July, the UK’s councils are spending £50 million on disposing of unwanted mail. Whatever the true figure is, there’s a common belief that councils are stumping up huge sums of money at a time when most are scaling back services due to severe budget cutbacks.
We, the DMA, do not accept claims that direct mail generates additional disposal costs beyond those created by other streams of waste paper, such as packaging and newspapers. However, our defence of the industry is severely undermined when householders continue to receive unwanted advertising mail. Many householders still receive mailings addressed to former occupants or, worse, to deceased relatives.
Of course, this excess waste created by unwanted advertising mail has not escaped the attention of our current government. The Tory-Lib Dem coalition has declared its ambition to be the greenest-ever government and committed itself to a zero-waste economy and challenging targets of CO2 reduction.
Industry is expected to contribute to achieving these goals, either through statutory regulation or by undertaking voluntary producer responsibility deals. As the professional body representing the direct marketing industry, we’ve taken the lead in opting for the voluntary approach. We’ll soon sign an agreement with government that commits our industry to meet specific waste reduction targets and minimise the environmental impact of what we do.
There are many aspects of how we will manage this, but we already have one simple solution available to us. Suppression files cut waste by ensuring that unwanted mail is not produced in the first place. Our agreement with government will commit us to recording how much direct mail is being suppressed and reporting it annually. Government has set an industry target for increasing the use of suppression files by 25 per cent over the next three years to prove we’re serious about eliminating unwanted mail.
As the champion of direct marketing best practice, we believe the industry should be doing this regardless. Accurate data is a valuable business asset, which is why it’s ludicrous for a company to invest thousands of pounds in acquiring consumer data, but not to budget at a later stage for finding out if their customer or prospect is still living at the same address.
Suppression files cut production costs, improve ROI and help reduce brand damage for companies that use direct mail. Yet, while the commercial imperative to use suppression files is strong, government’s heightened interest in our industry cutting waste means that the environmental imperative is growing ever stronger. Suppression files are a vital tool for us to hit all of our targets.