Back when I worked in advertising - long before digital ads were a thing - dropping flyers in the post was one of the most common mass marketing platforms available.
As a graphic designer, I was often working past midnight on Fridays doing final amends for these flyers so they could be printed over the weekend and distributed on Monday. The clients were names we’d all recognise in fast food, auto and fashion, which meant the budgets were basically unlimited. New promos went out almost every Friday and I did that for years.
A good response rate was 0.5-1%, which meant for 100,000 flyers dropped, they’d hope 500-1,000 people would call to order pizza or book a test drive. If they wanted a bigger response, they just printed more flyers.
Once digital ads became a thing, the flyers didn’t stop. In fact they often worked in conjunction with digital ads, so the production continued (you’ll still see basically the same flyers in your letterbox today).
What I saw though were the other 99,000 flyers in the gutter the following week. I’d given up so much time to put them together, and now they were litter while the next batch was being created, and I get to do it all again on Friday.
I’m sure it sold a bunch of pizza, but all I saw was complete waste.
Star Wars fans will spot the reference (Trekkies can hit the ‘unsubscribe’ button below 😜).
In the Force Awakens, storm trooper Finn has been raised in an institution that’s taught him to only know one life - he realises he’s been fighting for the bad guys, and risks his life to escape.
When I realised I had been raised in an institution that applauded things like mass production with complete disregard for waste, and that coveted things like prestige and design awards over ethics and purpose, I realised I was on the wrong team.
So I stole a TIE fighter and escaped 🚀
I’m not saying all advertising is bad, or that businesses shouldn’t promote themselves. My life was never at risk like Finn’s (aside from client-delivered pizza and beer every Friday night).
But I couldn’t continue giving my time to an industry that just produced relentlessly, especially when so much waste was such a huge and known part of it.
I still work with clients who need to produce these things, but there are ways to do them with less negative impact.
The more I look at marketing in general, the more waste I see. It’s not just advertising.
There’s a low-impact way to do almost every form of marketing... not doing it can be an option.
Assess what you’re doing marketing-wise right now, and how it truly serves you. Some of the organisations I work with find they can halve their marketing footprint without sacrificing any meaningful opportunities.
I’d love to know if you’re interested in learning more about that for your organisation - please reply and let’s chat. It’s fine, Trekkies also welcome 🖖.
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