I just went out and got the mail a few minutes ago. There wasn’t much in it — the only thing I won’t throw in the recycle bin is my wife’s copy of ESPN: The Magazine (published in North America: The Continent). Everything else is advertising.
This is typical for a Wednesday here in Stockton. Every Tuesday and Wednesday (except for federal holidays), we get a big sheaf of ads stuffed in our little front-porch mailbox. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, we pull out all the coupons for the fast-food restaurants we can actually stand (an increasingly limited number, since I’m on a diet right now — more on that in a future post). The rest goes straight into recycling, in the hope that they can take all that paper and make it into phone books or toilet tissue or baseball cards or … well, something more useful than ads.
And it got me wondering: why do companies send out all this stuff? And who is it that reads it, anyway?
Here’s the pile I’m looking at right now — and remember, this is just one day’s mail:
- A flyer for DirecTV, that says you can NOW GET OVER 150 CHANNELS for only $34.99 for 12 months (after which it jumps back to the usual price of $60 a month or so).
- An ad for a 5 DAYS ONLY EMERGENCY TENT SALE at a furniture store in Tracy (15 miles/25 km away) that is marking down their entire “$.5 MILLION” inventory. (Don’t you love that “$.5 MILLION”? That’s $500,000 to normal people.)
- A circular from Verizon Wireless, pushing their new Nationwide Plus Mexico Plan, printed in English on one side and Spanish on the other. (This is the right neighborhood for that; we’re the only Anglo family on the block.)
- Not one, but TWO flyers for local pizza places.
- A blank postcard to mail back if you want information on how to enroll in the local campus of the Marinello Schools of Beauty.
- A thick laminated card that supposedly works as a gift card for a car tune-up chain (and ironically addressed to my wife, who doesn’t drive).
- The Penny Saver.
All of which would have gained a combined total of eight seconds’ attention from me were I not writing a blog entry about it. We just got Limited Basic cable six months ago, which tells you what kind of devoted TV watchers we are, and don’t need most of the 22 or so channels we now have, let alone the “OVER 150” that DirecTV is offering. The only furniture we’re looking to buy in the next year or so is four new dinette chairs, and we aren’t going to go all the way to Tracy for those. (For the last set, we went a block and a half, to Goodwill.) We’ll get a cell phone account when either I get a job that requires me to travel heavily, or they outlaw landlines; otherwise it’s a waste of cash for us. I’ve been to that tune-up place and one of the two pizza joints, will never go back to either, and the other place’s pizzas don’t even look good in the ad. I can’t imagine myself as a beautician — besides which, neither my wife nor I can work a job that involves standing all day.
And the Penny Saver? Have you ever SEEN this piece of birdcage liner? Our local version is 48 pages, and you know how much of that is advertising? 47. I am not joking; I checked. One page is taken up by a cake recipe. The rest is classified listings and block ads, mostly in dingy black-and-white with occasional splashes of blue (except for the four-color-printed covers) on translucent-thin paper that the phone book makers would reject as being substandard. And the front and back covers are begging people to buy … ads in the Penny Saver. It’s like Craigslist for rednecks.
I can’t help thinking … if all this advertising didn’t work, companies wouldn’t keep buying the ads. Obviously, these things are convincing some people to shell out some ducats for their products. But I have to admit, I can’t remember the last time I looked into buying anything different from the usual just because of a flyer in my mailbox. Television, once in a while, but not often (remember, we don’t sit around the box all that much). On the Internet, I’ll click on an ad twice a week, and actually think about paying out some cash mayyyyyyybe three times a year. Magazine ad, pretty much never. And we don’t have a newspaper subscription.
And that’s just thinking about buying something, not actually plunking down the coin. Most of the times my wife and I have tried a new product, it was either:
- We had a new need in our life and checked what was on the grocery store shelves,
- The previous product we’d been using was unsatisfactory, so we were actively turning to their competitor(s), or
- Word of mouth — a friend had recommended it to us.
I just took a stroll through the house, and you know how many items I could find that we bought based on an ad? Go ahead, take a guess …
… You ready? One. No kidding — one. It’s a little kitchen chopping doohickey that we saw on one of those “As Seen On TV” TV commercials and took a chance on. Total cost, with shipping: about $27. So that’s how much money all that advertising has reaped from the Anselmo household — about enough to get you a large 3-topping and a pitcher of root beer at our favorite pizzeria. Which is not one of the ones we’ve been getting mail from. Even the ESPN magazine my wife has a subscription to — we only have that because the Worldwide Leader threw it in with my online access to ESPN Insider.
So are we the unusual ones, oddly resistant to the siren song of the salespeople, or are most people like this and the advertising industry is preying on a small minority of the easily convinced? I don’t know. I do know that there is one entity that is truly benefitting from all the advertising being sent to our house. And that’s Waste Management.
They’re the ones who pick up our recycling every Thursday.