The most common form of direct marketing is bulk mail, where the marketers use the reduced "bulk mail" postal rate to send paper mail to all postal customers in an area or all customers whose addresses have been taken from a list. The second most common form of direct marketing is telemarketing, where marketers call selected (or random) telephone numbers. E-mail spam may have passed telemarketing in frequency at this point, and it is a third type of direct marketing. Finally, a fourth type of direct marketing, bulk faxing, is now less common than the other forms.
In the United States, the United States Postal Service maintains that direct marketers pay the majority of the costs of mail. Bulk mail thereby subsidizes low cost stamps for letter, magazine, and book mailing. No such compensatory relationship exists with e-mail or faxes, which require the receiver to pay for bandwidth, storage space, or paper and toner, and some of the solutions to e-mail spam in the United States have involved instituting a freight cost on mass e-mail to make it productive. Such solutions have not been universally lauded, as they leave the victims of unsolicited e-mail with the problem of storage and bandwidth consumption and would increase costs to companies that send only solicited mass mailings.
Direct marketing differs from regular advertising in that it does not place its messages on a third party medium or in the agora, such as a billboard or a radio commercial would. Instead, the marketing of the service or commodity is pitched directly at the consumer.
Most direct marketing is done by companies whose only function is to manage and perform direct advertising, rather than by the advertised entity itself. Direct marketers have been long time customers of computer databases, and they often have very sophisticated criteria of inclusion and exclusion in their mailing lists. Recently, political campaigns have begun to appropriate the methods of direct marketers (or to employ direct marketing firms) to raise money and create activism.
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