Monday, December 29, 2014

The Science of Junk Mail

I am in the process of cleaning out and rearranging my study, something I do when I'm feeling particularly masochistic and/or can't find anything any more. I'm also trying to organize it so that I can make room for my unused (and very comfy) easy chair which now occupies an awkward position in the rec room, where it has no view of the TV and is usually used only as a staging area for clean wash waiting to be folded. I advertised for an archaeologist, a geologist, or a paleontologist to help dig down through the layers of debris, but so far no one has answered yet*.

One necessary part of cleaning out the study is shredding Mount Junk Mail - the huge pile of unwanted credit card come-ons, charity solicitations, "Congratulations, You Have Won ..." letters, and advertisements for retirement communities and cemetery plots**. These need to be shredded, of course, to prevent dumpster-diving dirtbags from stealing my identity and doing nefarious things in my name. And the process of excavating my way through that mountain gave me a new appreciation for the science that goes into the creation of junk mail.

First of all, there are the ways in which junk mail is disguised in an attempt to get you to open it. There are several ways this is done:

- By using a script typeface and colored ink on the envelope to make it look like it was hand-addressed ... clearly an attempt to make you think it's a personal letter***.

- Making the letter look like a check, by making words like "pay to the order of" appear on check-style paper above your name in the window on the envelope.

- Making the letter look like an official notice from a government agency.

- Stamping official-looking, demanding language on the envelope: "personal and confidential;" "to be opened only by the addressee;" and "Postmaster: handle in accordance with postal regulation 187.74.29 (or something similar)+."

There are also measures that junk mailers take to ensure that you don't just tear up their missives and throw them away. One way is by enclosing some part of the letter in plastic so that it can't be torn up. Another that I've seen more often lately (usually in credit card offerings) is to print the letter on heavy cardstock that can't be easily torn or fed into a home shredder++.

Once you open the envelope, they try all sorts of psychological tricks to actually make you read the contents.

- Charities usually ensure that the first thing you see when you pull out the letter is a heart-rending photo of a starving child/abused animal/devastated landscape/etc.

- Various services (cable TV, and cell phones, for example) include an actual check for some modest amount on which is printed (usually in .008 pitch font) the message that "endorsing and cashing this check will automatically transfer my cable TV/cell phone/trash pickup/etc service to Company X."

- Using apocalyptic language designed to make you nervous enough to respond as they wish, such as: "Our analysis shows that you may be paying thousands of dollars more than necessary for your mortgage," or "Thousands of people will die this year of (insert dreaded disease here)."

Food for thought as you deal with your own accumulation of junk mail. I'd write more, but Mount Junk Mail is only about half gone, and I only have one more day of vacation to get rid of it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* And won't those paleontologists be kicking themselves when I find a complete T-Rex skeleton under all the mouldering old photographs, eh?

** When you get to be my age, the last two start appearing with dismaying frequency.

*** But you're smarter than that ... you know that nobody but Bilbo would send you a handwritten letter, right?

+ Which probably tells the letter carrier to either deliver the damn letter or throw it away if you've moved. 

++ Some of you may remember the old gambit - I think it was the subscription offer from Time Magazine - that included a little pencil for you to fill in the form. A variation of this is the one that includes a stamp to put on your reply, a self-addressed, stamped envelope (often abbreviated SASE), or a dime to pay for your phone call to subscribe (and doesn't that date me?).


eViL pOp TaRt said...

Strangely enough, I look forward to shredding junk mail. Maybe it's some latent hostility, or I like the sound of the shredder.

Duckbutt said...

Those old gambits used to play on peoples' sense of reciprocity - the sense that if someone does you a favor, you should repay it in some way. What better way than to subscribe?

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Jennifer and I acquire a pile of mail order catalogs. And the magazines have deteriorated into vehicles for selling products.

Linda Kay said...

Well, now...I don't let them accumulate. We watch to see if there is anything personal before we pitch it, then there is the shredder which hubby operates maybe once a week. We got an ad from Direct TV on Saturday that was in what looked like a Christmas card...pretty clever, I have to admit.

The Bastard King of England said...

Junk mail makes a nice bonfire.

Mike said...

We get nickels every once in awhile in junk mail. I missed one recently and tried to run it through the shredder. The shredder stopped but survived.

Big Sky Heidi said...

A neighbor uses junk mail in her chicken coop.

BTW, Sluggo was a disrespectful nickname for Harry Reid, Nancy's friend.