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A Short History of Direct Mail Marketing – Part Three

Here we conclude our short series on the history of direct mail marketing.

The 1920s and 1930s

In 1926, a Book of the Month Club was launched which saw the birth of “continuity programs”. These programs essentially meant that when a customer paid for a previously shipped item, a successive item was shipped – in this case, a monthly book was sent upon payment for that prior until the consumer actively opted out.

In 1938, the March of Dimes was founded. This was an effort by the (US) National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, and it was important in implementing direct mail as a fundraising tool.

The 1950s and 1960s

Computers first arrived into the market in the 1950s. Bearing little resemblance to what we are familiar with today, they were marketed to consumers via direct mail marketing techniques, and over time came to be used themselves as a channel for direct marketing.

The 1950s also saw credit cards becoming more commonplace, and this offered flexibility of payments. This, in turn, resulted in direct marketing being used in and for the magazine publishing and music businesses.

It may be hard to believe, but it was only in 1967 that the term “direct marketing” was coined. In a speech delivered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lester Wunderman used the term for the first time; he was responsible for significant innovation in the evolution of direct marketing, in particular, the use of loyalty programs within the financial services industry.

The 1970s and today

In the 1970s, bold graphics and vibrant colour were used like never before in direct mail marketing. With the manipulation of images and graphic design made easy with computers, sales were increased by more eye-catching and captivating ads.

In the 1970s, more women were in the workforce and catalogue shopping was a convenient way for them to shop. Many, many companies and retailers took to direct mail catalogues and more high-end vendors adopted this channel, while those geared to lower and middle-class consumers vanished from the market.

In the last twenty years, direct mail is dependent on computer technology and consumer databases are huge. Marketing is more targeted than ever before.

Today, direct mail has evolved into the technologically-advanced era. With digital printing and even direct mail online, the sky is the limit and it’s exciting to ponder just what the future holds…

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