The Politics of Direct Mail


So Al Gore helped make Blackberrying a “thing” and Obama is often considered our first “digitally grass roots” president, but when it comes to getting out the vote, campaign managers are still banking on direct mail.

“Campaigns, party committees and outside groups have spent at least $150 million on direct mail so far in the 2014 election cycle, according to a POLITICO review of Federal Election Commission reports and data compiled by CQ Moneyline,” reports Tarini Parti in Politico.

“That total is just a snapshot, based only on expenditures that were categorized as a variation of ‘direct mail’ or ‘mailer’ and includes some postage and printing costs,” Parti continues. “Meanwhile, expenditures categorized as ‘digital,’ ‘online,’ ‘web’ and ‘email’ together totaled about $70 million.”

That’s right, folks. It appears that when it comes to delivering the red, white and blue in an election cycle, the political direct mail industry is thriving.

“The cost of television time is rising — at the same time the TV landscape has become more diffused — and many voters are using DVRs and internet video streams that upend traditional advertising,” Parti continues.

“The cottage industry developing around Republican primaries — with electorates more easily reached by mail — is also contributing to the spending on the medium, which is relatively easier and cheaper to link with the voter data on which campaigns are becoming increasingly dependent,” Parti notes.

Direct mail continues to be a solid workhorse for politicians and the special interest groups that surround election issues. And some pretty heavy-hitting campaign marketers aren’t afraid to say so.

“Direct mail works. I’ve been doing this for 32 years. People keep saying ‘Mail is going to die. It’s a dinosaur,’” said Walter Lukens, founder of The Lukens Co., whose clients include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Tennessee GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander, according to Parti.

Where it’s been especially effective, Lukens says, is in campaigns that are attempting to target a small, specific slice of the voting public, like the 2014 Republican primaries.

“In terms of moving the needle, it’s very effective because people still read their mail and some even keep it around,” Lukens said. “It’s got a shelf life. It’s cheaper, and you can reach a more targeted audience.”

And while digital political marketers like Andrew Bleeker of Bully Pulpit Interactive points out the obvious (“When you send a mail piece, you don’t know if they are reading it. With digital, we can now know if they saw an online ad.”), he admits that “smart campaigns” are using a solid mix of tools – direct and digital – to get their messages across.