Direct marketing is a sometimes controversial sales method by which advertisers approach potential customers directly with products or services.

It is a form of advertising that reaches its audience without using traditional formal channels of advertising, such as TV, newspapers or radio. Businesses communicate straight to the consumer with advertising techniques such as fliers, catalogue distribution, promotional letters, and street advertising.

Successful direct marketing also involves compiling and maintaining a large database of personal information about potential customers and clients. These databases are often sold or shared with other direct marketing companies.

For many companies or service providers with a specific market, the traditional forms of advertising (radio, newspapers, television, etc.) may not be the best use of their promotional budgets.

Instead of investing in a scattershot means of advertising (like radio), companies with a specific type of potential customer can send out literature directly to a list of pre-screened individuals. Direct marketing firms may also keep email addresses of those who match a certain age group or income level or special interest.

Direct marketing agencies must respect the do-not-call list maintained by government agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Customers also have the right to unsubscribe to unsolicited catalogs and to block bulk emails from their in-boxes.

There are two main definitional characteristics which distinguish it from other types of marketing:

- Send its message directly to consumers, without the use of intervening commercial communication media.

- The core principle of successful Advertising driving a specific “call to action.”

This aspect of direct marketing involves an emphasis on trackable, measurable, positive responses from consumers (known simply as “response” in the industry) regardless of medium.

It is attractive to many marketers, because in many cases its positive effect (but not negative results) can be measured directly.

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