Does “spam” still have a place in the world of online advertising?

Print advertising has long been heralded as being on the way out, but small advertisers say they expect business to pick up after the pandemic.

Manish Dholu owns a Perth-based brochure delivery company and says demand is growing in the suburbs, despite an increase in ‘no junk mail’ signs on letterboxes and the rise of digital marketing.

“Right now, we’re delivering about 300,000 to 350,000 mailboxes a month,” he says.

Despite an increase in ‘no junk mail’ signs in some Perth suburbs, smaller delivery services say there is still a demand for advertising material.(ABC News: Kate Leaver)

“That number went down a bit due to COVID because we had 25 scooter riders and right now I’m down to 10.

“So I’m looking forward to having more passengers on board and hopefully we can reach over 400,000 or 450,000 mailboxes per month.”

A man looking at a colored map of the suburbs of Perth.
Manish Dholu keeps track of the number of mailboxes in each suburb of Perth.(ABC News: Kate Leaver)

While some find it embarrassing to see their mailboxes filled to the brim with advertising material, Mr Dholu says others appreciate the opportunity to research discounts in their area.

“[Online advertising] affected us a bit, but I believe people still want to smell the flyers or feel the promotion in their hands and their mailboxes and that works for a lot of our customers,” he says.

“I would say [paper advertising] will be there for the next 10 years at least.”

No spam

Mr Dholu said that over the past two years he had seen an increase in the number of ‘no junk mail’ signs on letterboxes and properties, particularly in the western suburbs of Perth.

“If it’s a developing or new neighborhood, there are fewer ‘no junk’ signs, but ‘no junk’ signs are gradually increasing in each suburb,” he says.

“We charge our customers based on the number of flyers we can deliver, so ‘no spam’ signs obviously affect our business.

A man, wearing a red cap and a red T-shirt, looks at a computer screen.
Mr. Dholu uses tracking technology and mapping to follow his team of scooter riders during their deliveries.(ABC News: Kate Leaver)

“But it’s a choice for residents. If they don’t want the promotions and flyers in their mailbox and a sign, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Email versus postal mail

Marketing and consumer professor Gary Mortimer says the rise of digital and targeted advertising means that mailbox brochures are no longer an effective advertising method for businesses.

A man in a suit in front of a store
Gary Mortimer says print advertising is rapidly declining with the emergence of targeted online marketing.(Provided)

“When you open your mailbox there are things that just don’t concern you,” he told Tom Baddeley on ABC Radio Perth.

“So we’ve certainly seen the emergence of digital marketing as a more effective way to connect consumers to the products they might actually want to buy.

“If you’re like me, that junk mail comes into your mailbox, and you take it out of your mailbox and straight into your trash, and it usually doesn’t see the light of day.”

Professor Mortimer predicts that paper catalogs will soon disappear as large retail chains abandon print advertising.

“Major supermarkets Coles and Woolworths have eliminated the use of their paper catalogs and have certainly had their paper catalogs delivered to your home,” he says.

“They’re still available in stores but don’t actually ship nationwide.

“Bunnings is the latest to abolish the use of paper catalogs delivered to your doorstep.

“They realize it’s not an effective way to connect with customers. There’s also the environmental footprint.

“We cut down trees to create these products only to put them straight in the trash.”

Ignore sign code violation

Mailbox distribution companies can choose to adhere to an industry code of conduct established by the Distribution Standards Board.

The code states that companies must not place material in mailboxes where a “no junk mail” sign is posted and clean up waste caused by improper delivery practices.

A green mailbox stuffed with junk mail.
Mailbox distribution companies can choose to adhere to an industry code of conduct established by the Distribution Standards Board.(ABC News: Kate Leaver)

According to the Distribution Standards Board, the postal and letterbox networks reach more than 28 million Australians and New Zealanders every day.

But for Mr. Dholu, spam panels aren’t his biggest obstacle.

“Some people [verbally] abuse it or try to hit [delivery riders] with a stick,” he said.

“In the past three or four months we have had two incidents where someone tried to hit our runners with an iron bar.

“So sometimes I go out there and try to talk to the residents and tell them if you have any problems you can always call us, but some residents are really, really aggressive.”

Divided opinions on spam distribution

Some ABC Radio Perth listeners say they appreciate the spam brochures:

Anonymous: “Don’t ban physical spam. Ban electronic spam by banning companies from sharing your data when you sign up. That way you won’t end up getting emails from companies you’ve never heard of talk.”

Nardy: “No, don’t ban junk mail. It’s provided jobs for several people I know, along with exercise and fresh air. Plus I can see the shopping promotions.”

Tracey: “My sister’s three children have all been doing junk mail delivery for many years. They made a lot of money and then got jobs for a local company after offering to deliver their brochures for free. They all work there now.”

While others want to see an end to the distribution of leaflets:

Rock : “Spam coming out of mailboxes means the house is unoccupied and can be broken into! It’s rubbish.”

Lucy : “Ban these spam catalogs [and] pamphlets. Also ban postpaid letters that are delivered by the postman and addressed to the “resident” or any postcards from estate agents.”

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