‘The solid gold mailbox': direct mail and the changing nature of buying and selling in the postwar United States
This article explores the changing nature of advertising and marketing by direct mail in the postwar United States. Through an analysis of direct mail literature, it explores the changing ideas and technologies that transformed marketing by mail and consumer culture. The primary sources include the speeches and papers of prominent figures in direct advertising, as well as industry literature and popular media sources. Prior to the 1980s, direct mail and its practitioners were largely marginalized in the advertising world. As firms and marketers searched for ways to segment the mass market of consumer societies in the 1960s and 1970s, direct mail proved to be an effective tool not only for selling products, but also for studying the changing interests and buying behaviors of consumers. The article draws much needed attention to the history of direct mail advertising in consumer culture and the role of database technologies in the changing relationships between firms and consumers in the late twentieth century. The article also explores the roots of consumer concerns about privacy and the environment that have characterized responses to direct marketing in recent decades.