Has there ever been – could there ever be – a message more useless than the NO JUNK MAIL stickers that you seem to see stuck on or around more and more letterboxes?
And not just useless, but silly, prissy and naive too. Naive because most junk mail is of course pushed through letterboxes by postmen, and it’s just inconceivable that a postie would scrutinise every envelope, decide whether it’s junk mail and then…well, then what, exactly? Then not put it through your letterbox and do what with it? Take it back to the sorting office? Return it to sender? Put it in a bin?
It’s inconceivable for a whole bunch of ridiculously obvious reasons. First, it’s just stupid to imagine that a busy postman with a full mailbag has time to peruse every envelope and take a view on whether they’re junk mail or not. Second, even if he or she did, it’s often really hard to tell. Crappy Barclaycard 0% balance transfer mailings come in anonymous envelopes intended to sneak through your defences by looking like proper mail. Statements from proper insurance companies come in garish envelopes carrying full-colour images in a desperate (and usually unsuccessful) attempt to achieve “engagement.”
Third, these stupid sticker-stickers don’t seem to realise that the Royal Mail’s contract isn’t with them, it’s with the customers paying for them to deliver things. If postpeople were deflected from fulfilling this contract by a front-door sticker, the Royal Mail’s contract business would collapse into chaos. And, of course, long before than, your kind, helpful, sticker-reading, envelope-perusing postie would have lost his or her job.
Similar considerations apply to non-Royal Mail deliveries. You have 500 restaurant menus to post through letterboxes before you can collect your four hours’ money on minimum wage. Apart from the fact that you’ll certainly be sacked if a stack of them are found in a bin somewhere on your delivery round, how keen are you to politely desist from posting a leaflet whenever you see a NO JUNK MAIL sign? Not keen at all, 100% unkeen, is the answer.
There are four of these useless stickers in my street alone, and there must be hundreds of thousands across the country. They can’t possibly achieve any part of their aim, so what’s the point of them?
I think they’re there, as most communication is, to say something about the communicator rather than something to the communicatee. In their abrupt rejection of JUNK MAIL, they say the residents aren’t taken in. In the same way that research focus group respondents smugly tell us how utterly they remain unaffected by advertising, NO JUNK MAIL:people choose their restaurants on the basis of the review in the Good Food Guide, unbiased recommendations on social media and personal, objective experience, not on fliers pushed through the door offering freed delivery on orders of £20 or more.. NO JUNK MAIL signs are a sort of virtue signalling, although somehow that isn’t quite the right phrase – I’d be grateful if you could suggest a better one.
And one final thing – they’re ugly, too. From the point of view of passers-by, rather uglier than the mail inside, lying on the doormat.