Will we have to suffer Reader's Digest junk mail forever?

18 July 2011

Until I saw the envelope, I thought Reader's Digest had died out long ago, along with Richard Hammond's career prospects. But no, there it was - junk mail from a publication I've seen nobody care to read since my nana died. Look at it; everything about it is intended to deceive the recipient, which in this case was me:

Bitterwallet - Reader's Digest junk mail

It's laughable that not a single stamp is genuine; all are printed onto the envelope. Everything is designed to fool the recipient into believing the contents have some value. There are laws on forging stamps, there are none on forging them to mislead recipients, so long as you pay Royal Mail to deliver.

Of course we're all familiar with junk mail from Reader's Digest; the magazine has used direct marketing to drive subscriptions for many years. Regardless of its editorial standards, their junk mail campaigns have sullied the title and been found to be misleading and irresponsible; in 2008 the Advertising Standards Authority ruled against Reader's Digest for preying on the elderly with their prize draw promotions. One of the reasons was that the promotional literature was designed to suggest either the recipient's odds of winning the prize draw were improved, or that they had already progressed further in a promotion than was the case - no different to the envelope that dropped through my door.

The ASA will only investigate a matter if reported and then can only rule that a company doesn't continue to use the same promotional material. Those responsible for delivering the campaigns aren't interested in putting a stop to junk mail either, because it drives a phenomenal amount of revenue; Royal Mail recently admitted that direct mail brings in £16 billion annually, which is possibly why the organisation refuses to recognise the term 'junk mail'. Did you know that Royal Mail has a scheme that allows you to opt out of unsolicited mail? Probably not - a tiny minority of households are subscribed to it because next-to-nothing is done to promote it, for obvious reasons (you can find details on the excellent Stop Junk Mail website).

So if you do receive their junk mail (most likely after Reader's Digest bought your details from another third party), what chance do you have of winning? According to one source, "as a prize draw that is heavily advertised and runs over a long period of time, it attracts an incredible number of entrants. It is believed that a single entry stands a 1 in 17 million chance of hitting the jackpot."

In summary, then: direct marketing is Reader's Digest's primary method of driving subscriptions. So long as it continues to do so, the junk mail won't stop. The authorities won't pro-actively police it and even when they do act, Reader's Digest just massage the promotional material. And the likes of Royal Mail will do everything they can to encourage it because it's hugely profitable. In other words, unless they're found to have hacked the voicemail of the McCanns or some other fate befalls them, junk mail from reader's Digest is here to stay.

5 comments

  • blob w.
    bloody hell Paul, have you got the painters in or something. Post after post of venom.
  • Myrtle
    'Everything about it is intended to deceive the recipient', oh, except for the large Reader's Digest logo on the front of the envelope. It's a prize draw, that you can enter without even making a purchase. Hardly comparable to phone hacking is it? Stop overreacting.
  • John S.
    Shanks here. It doesn't cost anything at all to enter (via the universally understood 'No' envelope option) so who cares if the odds of winning are 17m to 1? Why don't you put the entire not-at-all deceptive envelope straight into your recycling bin and stop making such a fuss about absolutely nothing at all? Regards.
  • Dirty S.
    What's the law like on sending faeces back in the post to Reader's Digest? Just wondering like.
  • Michael G.
    Paul is right, what people fail to realise here is that this isnt a free prize draw, it consists of convincing letters telling somebody that they are so close to winning there is a cheque already written out in their name, the catch being you need to buy £5 books for £40, simple you may think ignore it, the elderly do not, the vunerable do not ,and Readers Digest are relentless, my elderly Mum has even been told where the venue is she will be receiving her prize, it is a con.

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