Can Direct Marketing Make a Comeback?

In this era of Facebook ads and company-customer interaction through Twitter, direct marketing that shows up in your mail box seems incredibly outdated.

I mean, junk mail? Really?

That's why I was surprised to see that UPS is experimenting with a new marketing and sampling service, called Direct to Door, that will allow companies send samples directly to UPS customers along with products they've ordered.

Here's the big question: will this be the ultimate targeted marketing? Or will it backfire?

Imagine opening up a package you've ordered from Pottery Barn or . In there with your shoes is a sample, say of a new toothbrush from Crest or brownie from Procter & Gamble . Maybe it's just some marketing material.

Will you be annoyed to have to recycle another box and dump some more junk mail? Or will you be thrilled you don't have to go out and buy a new toothbrush?

I'd guess that the economy would work to UPS' advantage, making people more receptive to free samples. But then there's the question of bombarding people with products they haven't asked for and may not want. I'd guess that this test would yield the best results if the likes of Williams Sonoma and participating in the test asked consumers what they'd want to test when they're checking out and paying for their purchase.

UPS certainly needs all the help it can get as digital delivery and the recession have eaten into results - package volume in the US is down for the sixth consecutive quarter. This will be a key test of whether UPS can create a viable new business model, which will entail bringing the cost of reaching 1,000 consumers down to the cost of the price of direct mail. That seems ambitious - shipping a "pak" sounds more expensive than an envelope full of ads. No matter what this is worth watching.

There's nothing more fascinating than watching a tech-savvy business revisit and try to jazz up an old fashioned marketing ploy.

Questions? Comments?