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The Household Diary Study: Mail Use & Attitudes 2009 – Advertising Mail

In April 2010, the United States Postal Service released its latest House-hold Diary Study surveyed a representative sample of over 5,360 U.S. households to provide a “comprehensive and continuous description” of the mail sent and received by the American household.

Select Top-Line Results from The Household Diary Study
  • Households received 85 billion pieces of advertising mail in 2009, which was 15% less than in 2007 and 2008 due to the economy. In 2009, advertising mail represented 59% of all mail received by households.
  • As in prior years, direct mail was one of the leading media choices of advertisers in 2009. However, due to a steep economic downturn, direct mail advertising spending fell 11.6% compared to 2008.
  • Eight of 10 households (79%) say they either read or scan the advertising mail sent to their homes – 51% of households surveyed usually “read” all or some of their advertising mail while 28% “scan” advertising mail they receive. One out of every five households (21%) report they usually do not read their advertising mail.
  • Household behavior toward reading advertising mail is largely independent of how much advertising mail the household receives. For example, among households that receive zero to seven pieces of advertising mail per week, 45% usually read all or some of the mail and 17% usually do not read any. Among households that receive 18 or more pieces per week, 48% usually read all or some, and 16% usually do not read any. While households don’t appear “turned off” to high volumes of direct mailings – the percentage of households that usually read all advertising does decrease as the number of pieces increases.
  • The amount of advertising mail received is closely tied to income, education, and age. Households with incomes over $100,000 and with a head of household age 55 and older received the greatest number of advertising mail pieces at 23.3 pieces per week.
  • Despite the attention paid to online and e-mail advertising, households with Internet access receive more advertising mail than those without access. This is reflective of household characteristics such as income and education – Internet access is closely tied to income and education.  Households with broadband access average 15.7 pieces of direct mail a week; dial-up households average 12.5 pieces a week, and homes without Internet access average 9.3 pieces of direct mail per week.
  • The survey shows that not all advertising is treated equally. Catalogs attract much more attention than credit card advertising – 47% of households read catalogs while 19% discard them without reading them. On the other hand, 33% of households read credit card advertising while 40% discard them without reading.
  • When asked about their intended response to advertising mail, 28% say they will respond or might respond to standard class mailings (e.g., catalogs) and 18% say they will or might respond to first-class mailings (e.g., credit card offers).
  • The higher the income, the higher the average number of responses to advertising mail.  For example, households with incomes above $150,000 report they intend to respond to 2.3 pieces of advertising mail per week, and they may respond to another 3.1 pieces per week. Other high-income households also indicate they will respond to more than one piece of advertising mail per week, as do some of the lower income households. 
Take Away:

Performed annually since 1987 by the U.S Postal Service, this study provides a consistent look at household attitudes towards mail received, such as advertising mail. Contrary to the image that direc mail is “junk mail” and is tossed without consideration, a majority of households report paying attention to the advertising they receive. This helps explain why direct mail is the number one choice of advertisers in America – consumers read the advertising mail they receive and respond to it.

Reprinted with permission from Print in the Mix – A Clearinghouse of Research on Print Media Effectiveness

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