Unsolicited Mail – Dead on Arrival

4 minute read

For a few years now I have been writing about unsolicited marketing materials landing in your traditional mailbox and how the tides of environmental change will eventually outlaw this practice. Casting my mind back to 2004, I remember arriving in Sydney and actually being quite shocked at how much of this junk was floated around the streets.

My arrival in Bondi Beach a year later was greeted with phone books stacked outside of my apartment block only to see weeks later the stack still standing, until eventually they were tossed in the bin. Today the splurge of these books in multiple formats continues to amaze me.

Now in the USA, San Francisco may be the first city to make a move to ban these books altogether. Let’s examine their reasoning. According to greenbiz.com local councils across the USA spend approximately $54 million a year to dispose of the books and another $9 million to recycle them. If this is true then their is not only an environmental reason but also an economical reason and when you combine these two you know action will eventually be taken.

In Australia there is a powerful lobby behind keeping unsolicited mail running with the usual line about how they are the lifeblood of small businesses, however with enough notice I am sure they can find better ways to get their message out and local online directories seem to an area that could cover this.

I have also spoken about how digital television could also reshape the advertising markets with local TV ads being delivered for specific area making it very affordable and another reason why James Packer is a thicky for getting rid of his interests in Nine.

The Yellow Pages in the USA have an opt out website where you can opt out of receiving them. I tried this in Australia and it took forever on a phone to finally opt out, yet I still kept receiving them – hardly self regulation at its best.

According to statistics “nearly 70% of adults in the United States ‘rarely or never’ use the phone book, and instead opt to use the Web-based search tools. I would guess the stats would be nearly exactly the same in Australia.

So now we have three very big reasons why the Yellow Pages cannot survive. Environmental and Economical for both the governments associated with real costs and businesses who are moving away from advertising in droves. Yellow Pages staff have posted some information here that cannot be backed up by any facts and figures, I am sure they have done their own internal polling of usage, and I am equally sure that will never see the light of day. Their big problem is they were slow to move in on the online world and now they are not even remotely as successful online as they should be. So they will cling to the past in the hope that they can wring some more dollars out of the few businesses that still enjoy some success from their services.

I can assure you a ban will not be effective for one company, that would not be fair, but unsolicited mail of any kind is on life support systems and agents are going to have to find better and more innovative ways to get their messages across.

If you are into mass mail marketing or letterbox drops, my opinion is that you should start now. Create a local market report that gets sent out to your local community and trial it for one year, where all in the community can read the report, go online and register to receive the same by electronic means. Annually you should also create a report across the board with a years worth of stats that looks cool, has a calendar attached and can be stuck on a fridge.

Subtle marketing works so much better than most of the in your face ‘I am awesome’ trash anyway.

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  • Nick
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 9:11 am 0Likes

    Mine are just lying around, however I dont see them dying any time soon.

    Its a business, and until the business stops being profitable, it will continue. Even if 70% of people in the US don’t use them, 30% do and make the company money.

    I doubt our government would put any restrictions on it. The Yellow Pages will die, but naturally rather than forcefully.

  • Karl Mikkelsen
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 9:27 am 0Likes

    You can opt – out online peter!


    This will let you say no to yellow pages and white pages. However you need to re-do it every 3 years.

    They do also say if they are in the middle of a print run you may still get it.

    I suspect the fact you still get it may be that the delivery person may not look at their “don’t deliver” list.

  • Matthew N
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 9:49 am 0Likes

    Hi Peter

    Very interesting post here, you seem to have two themes here – yellow pages and direct mail.

    While the yellow pages isn’t something I personally use, I definitely agree with the second point about the “I am awesome” stuff.

    I do put out unsolicited advertising in mailboxes but it’s a monthly newsletter and there’s been 100% positive feedback.

    One of the most effective marketing strategies across all service/information industries is “Add Value!” A free newsletter with local information that people are interested in is much more likely to be read and secondly to trigger Reciprocity.


  • Bill
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 11:43 am 0Likes

    I have two late teen boys in my family and neither would know where we keep the yellow or white pages. I haven’t used any phone book in years. I just purchased a new Samsung Galaxy and the voice search is just superb. I just performed three test searches:

    “Canberra hospital” 100% strike.
    “real estate agent conder” 100% strike
    and it was smart enough to know that when I spoke “business two” it listed “business2.com.au” at the top of the results. Another 100%

    I agree with you, bye bye yellow and white pages, I think direct mail may live on for awhile though because it’s probably used for branding as well as product awareness. And I must admit we always keep the pizza deals.

  • PaulD
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 12:01 pm 0Likes

    I cancelled my Yellow Pages ad 3 years ago. Interestingly over that period the volume ( ie. the number of pages in our local Yellow Pages) has dropped by 6.6% and 8.1% in the years since then. I assume the Yellow Pages Ad people are compensating by cranking the ad cost up. So with a 14% drop in the last 2 years, and I believe that pace will quicken, pretty soon it will get to the point where less and less people are paying more and more to keep it going and then – well, we know what will happen then. How long that will take seems to be the question – When – not if.

  • Vic
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm 0Likes


    How do you get 100% positive feedback from a mail drop?

  • PaulD
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm 0Likes

    That’s easy Vic. 100% of the 5% that reply

  • Peter Ricci
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 2:53 pm 0Likes

    Karl, thanks for that, do not have a problem with it now – as currently in USA.

    Nick, so should they still deliver to the 70% that don’t?


  • PaulD
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 3:15 pm 0Likes

    There is a link on that Huffington Post article.

    Be Warned – the language may offend, but the song is not bad.

  • Vic
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 4:35 pm 0Likes

    12 months ago we were told by a rep that the ratio of searchers/users of print to internet was 50/50 with unique visitors at 1.26m. (How they knew the readership of their printed pages gets me.)
    Recent results of web traffic to http://www.yellowpages.com.au suggests that the ratio has dramatically improved to their web site. Once the print buyers get their heads around where the traffic is coming from, probably late this year when the next ordering is due, I’ll bet they opt for web advertising only. Yellow pages will probably go on for another couple of years trying all sorts of pricing deals, but they will find they are flogging a dead horse.
    If you have shares in a pulp mill, is now the time to get out? 🙂 Unless of course letter box drops and inserts take on a whole new life.

  • Greg Vincent
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 4:58 pm 0Likes

    That’s funny PaulD. I told an agent a couple of years ago that if he was going to advertise in the Yellow Pages that he should make sure that he inserted a different number (1300 or a different line) so that he could track the results. Thank heavens he did: 2 tenant enquiries and random time-waster was all that he got in 12 months.

    Now he’s ditched it and said that he’d spend the money on taking his family away on a holiday each year.

  • Matthew N
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 7:54 pm 0Likes

    Vic, I surveyed a sample of the recipients and feedback was as stated. It’s been successful enough to justify continuing it.. it’s not the typical mundane newsletter which I think is a big part of it.

    PaulD, correct although we’re obviously talking more than 5 people.

    Greg, great advice there that you gave re: having a separate number for the Yellow Pages (or for that matter, any marketing tool that requires heavy investment).

    Interesting discussion, have a great weekend fellas.

  • Rachael Lord
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 1:26 pm 0Likes

    Just as an aside, are any agents thinking of going to the AREL conference in Melbourne (May) “Play a Smarter Game”. It’s been a while since our office has bothered with these because the ones in America are just so much more ground breaking.

    This one looks pretty good though. Thoughts?


  • Vic
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 11:22 am 0Likes

    The conveners are some high profile motivational North American speakers and if it is anything like what they normally produce it would be a great two days.
    The one thing about the Yanks that comes through more so than Australian speakers is their total self belief. Makes for good open interaction and feel good/can do attitude.
    As long as participants can take even only one key thing away the two days will have been a success.
    A must to attend, I would say.

  • Advanced Real Estate Learning
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 12:56 pm 0Likes

    Thanks Vic for the glowing endorsement above and Rachael glad to see the event has piqued an interest from your team.

    We believe the event program offers a balanced mix of nuts and bolts business intel, a little motivation and a heap of inspired take-home content.

    Just want to clarify though – the speakers are not the event conveners in this case. Advanced Real Estate Learning are a new industry event company whose team have over 20 years of experience in building and bringing industry conferences and events to the Australasian market.

    Sorry this is also “off topic”.

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