Surprisingly enough, in this day of blast emails and spammers, snail mail marketers are still a thriving breed. ProQuo is a startup, launching tomorrow, that hopes to help consumers curb their physical junk mail.
Interest in stopping marketers has been high for several years. From the National Do Not Call Registry to Firefox’s Adblock extension and email filters, consumers are fighting back against the marketing messages that seem to fill every corner of our lives. However, there are few obvious options to stop physical junk mail.
GreenDimes and 41 Pounds both offer to cut off unsolicited mail, but charge for their services. ProQuo is free; CEO Steve Gal told us he hopes consumers will use it selectively, choosing to let mail they might be interested in — anything from mortgage offers to coupons for the local grocery store — make it through the company’s “firewall”.
After initially blocking junk mail from the large, cobbled-together mailing lists that companies like Axciom sell to marketers, ProQuo will allow its users to selectively pick and choose offers they want, as well as choose whether or not to remain anonymous. “We’ll give people meaningful control, for the first time in their lives, over who has their information and who uses it,” says Gal.
Those customers who decide they want specific offers mailed to them will be able to allow, through ProQuo, some marketers to reach them. In turn, the company will receive some share of the ad revenue.
ProQuo won’t solicit customers to take offers, but will instead passively offer the service on their web page, where it hopes users will return each month to block more junk mail companies from reaching them. Whether anyone would want to receive mailed marketing offers remains to be seen.
As part of its initial service, ProQuo blocks 16 different marketing companies, including some of the largest senders of junk mail (although quite a few others remain). However, when we tried out the beta version of the service, we found the process still isn’t entirely painless.
Each of the 16 companies requires a couple clicks to confirm that you won’t want mail from them. For about a dozen, the process is just that simple. However, a handful demand that forms be printed, filled with personal information and mailed back to the companies. One marketing firm allows an online opt-out, but requires a $1 “anti-fraud” payment to “confirm” that you’re not faking someone’s identity — an obvious effort to discourage people from opting out.
When we asked Gal whether his company would have any problem convincing companies that get their revenue from selling customer lists to allow all of ProQuo’s customers to opt out, he said the larger junk mail companies may not go down without a fight — after all, they represent a $41 billion industry and have deep pockets to help keep their greedy hands in your mailbox.
The company, which has already taken a $5 million round of funding led by Draper Fisher Jurvetson, is looking for more funding to expand its own marketing team, continue adding to its list of blocked companies, and prepare for any legal battles.