Don’t lie about junk mail

Posted by GT on October 9th, 2008 — Posted in Newspaper columns

Originally published in January 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

Businesses that want to try getting our money have permission to send my family junk mail, as long a they’re honest about it.

This being America and all, I figure people have just as much right to use the nation’s Postal Service to try selling me their product as they do their religion … although some businesses approach selling with more fervor than most missionaries.

However, the sellers have to make it obvious from the get-go that what reaches my home is an ad.

They must put a business name on the envelope’s face, or better yet, a big, colorful logo.

I’d like some indicator of what sales pitch is being thrown. “Big subscriber savings,” perhaps, or “Zero percent interest for one year!” Something to make it crystal clear this is advertising.

That way, we can throw it away without opening it.

It’s called junk mail because it’s garbage. If it comes to us, pretty much all of it is headed to the nearest trash can, preferably before it even makes it into the house. I hate to see the paper go to waste, but I’ve reached the sad conclusion life is too short to recycle everything.

Maybe once a year, we get a piece of junk mail that interests us and accept the offer. That might amount to one-quarter of 1 percent of all junk mail we get. If that’s enough to make it worthwhile for junk mailers, then as I said before, it’s OK with me if they want to keep sending it, as long as they’re honest. I’m not saying I like it because I generally sneer at junk mail, but it won’t get my shorts in a twist the way a telemarketer or spammer will.

Again, as long as they’re honest. What’s aggravating is when they try to disguise themselves.

Anyone with a mailbox knows what a disguised piece of junk mail looks like. It comes with “URGENT!” or “DATED MATERIAL – OPEN IMMEDIATELY” in large letters near your address. On the back flap, in small type, is a return address but no business name. There’s nothing to tell you this is an ad; instead, the envelope subtly screams that its contents are private and important.

Most of us have seen this trick enough that we know it’s junk, but it might not be. So we get a little closer to death opening the envelope. After confirming we’ve been lied to, we’re a touch more desensitized, and soon we’ll start pitching these letters without opening them … which might someday lead to ignoring something truly important.

In the last couple of years, I’ve started doing a small thing to get even with businesses that send me disguised junk mail. See, these letters almost always come with postage-paid return envelopes, so I put those to good use. After removing whatever papers might have our personal info on them, I shred the rest, put the confetti in the return envelope, and send it on its way.

I don’t know what happens after that, but here’s the best I figure I can hope for:

Some low-level cog in the junk mailer’s machine gets my envelope. This person probably knows what’s inside by the feel of it (I’m sure I’m not the first person to try this trick), but on the off chance he’s wrong, he has to open it.

If luck is with me, the envelope tears open sloppily or a stiff breeze hits and the little bits of paper scatter. The junk mailer has to dedicate a fragment of its budget to paying someone to clean up the mess I sent. Maybe some poor envelope-opener even gets sick of dealing with crackpots like me and walks off the job, forcing the hiring and training of a replacement.

Or maybe none of this happens. I don’t know. In the end, it would be nice to waste as much of their time as they did mine.

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