Direct Mail Marketing History

Remember Montgomery Ward’s?

Of course, when we were younger we called it Monkey Ward’s…. and don’t ask me why, just silliness, I suppose. I think the nickname came about because the company used the form "Montgy. Ward" or "Montg'y Ward" in its advertising.

Mail order pioneer Aaron Montgomery Ward knew that using the technique of selling products directly to the customer at appealing prices could, if executed effectively and efficiently, revolutionize the market industry and therefore be used as an innovative model for marketing products and creating customer loyalty. The term "direct marketing" was coined long after Montgomery Ward's time.

The History

In 1872, Aaron Montgomery Ward produced the first mail-order catalog for his Montgomery Ward mail order business. It consisted of an 8” x 12” single-sheet price list, showing 163 articles for sale with ordering instructions. By buying goods, and then reselling them directly to customers, Ward was consequently removing the middlemen at the general store and, to the benefit of the customer, drastically lowering the prices.

In the first few years, the business was not well received by rural retailers. Considering Ward a threat, they sometimes publicly burned his catalog. Despite the opposition, the business grew at a fast pace over the next several decades, fueled by demand primarily from rural customers who were attracted by the wide selection of items unavailable to them locally. Customers were also attracted by the innovative and unprecedented company policy of "satisfaction guaranteed or your money back", which Ward began using in 1875.

In 1883, the company's catalog, which became popularly known as the "Wish Book", had grown to 240 pages and 10,000 items. In 1900, Wards had total sales of $8.7 million and by 1904; the company had grown such that three million catalogs, weighing 4 pounds each, were mailed to customers.

His free catalog, printed by the most modern methods, allowed the customer to see pictures of consumer goods and imagine how they might be used. Later, Ward used the Post Office's Rural Free Delivery. He lobbied for a parcel post system that came about in 1906. The early 20th century was the heyday of mail orders and Ward's had become an American tradition. Ward's catalog soon was copied by other enterprising merchants, most notably Richard Warren Sears, who mailed his first general catalog in 1896. Others entered the field, and by 1971 catalog sales of major U.S. firms exceeded more than $250 million in postal revenue.

A study by the Direct Marketing Association reports that in 2010, marketers—commercial and nonprofit—spent $153.3 billion on direct marketing, which accounted for 54.2% of all ad expenditures in the United States. Measured against total US sales, these advertising expenditures generated approximately $1.798 trillion in incremental sales.
In 2010, direct marketing accounted for 8.3% of total US gross domestic product. In 2010, there were 1.4 million people employed in the direct marketing industry in the US. Their collective sales efforts directly support 8.4 million other jobs, accounting for a total of 9.8 million US jobs or almost 8% of all jobs in 2010.
More recently a direct benefit of advertising mail for the USPS generated revenues of $16.9 billion for the USPS in 2013, according to the OIG, up 3% from $16.4 billion in 2012. That represents a quarter of total USPS revenues of $66 billion in 2013.