What is junk mail? Definition and examples

Junk mail refers to things we receive in the post but did not request, i.e., unsolicited mail. We use the term when referring to physical and electronic mail. Direct mail and direct marketing firms send junk mail to hundreds of millions of people across the world every week.

Companies use this type of mail to introduce new products, magazines, and investments. Local restaurants and businesses that deliver meals also send unsolicited mail to residents nearby. Charities send letters to people requesting donations.

In the advanced economies, such as the US, Canada, Western Europe, Japan, and Australasia, physical junk mail is a massive business. ‘Physical,’ in this context, means mail that we can touch; in envelopes. In other words, mail that comes to our front door.

Junk Mail versus Spam definition
According to Wikipedia, junk mail includes: “Advertising circulars, plastic mailers, coupon envelopes (Money Mailer, Valpak), catalogs, CDs, ‘pre-approved’ credit card applications, and other commercial merchandising materials delivered to homes and businesses.”

Junk mail – a lifeline

In fact, most national postal services today would probably struggle to survive without junk mail. It is a lifeline for them.

Since the advent of the Internet, emails, and electronic communication apps, people have used traditional mail considerably less.

The Internet or Net is a global network of networks that interlinks computers across the world. It is rather like the physical postal system, but operating at light-speed.

Traditional mail means physical mail, i.e., sending letters in physical envelopes with stamps, and using postal workers to deliver them, etc.

Today, most of us communicate online, either in writing, speaking, or video-conferencing. We even pay most of our bills and do our banking online.

However, we still receive physical mailshots in large numbers. A mailshot is a dispatch of mail, usually promotional material, which is sent to many people at the same time. Mailshots are a type of junk mail.

Merriam-Webster has the following definition of the term:

“Unsolicited mail that consists mainly of promotional materials, catalogs, and requests for donations.”

Junk mail vs. spam

There are two terms – junk mail and spam – which have very similar meanings, but which we use in different situations.


Spam also refers to sending unsolicited letters to many people. However, spam only occurs online. You might receive spam via email, chat applications such as WhatsApp, Skype, and social media websites.

Companies, political parties, charities, and other entities use spam to promote their products, ideas, or raise money.

Sometimes, people send spam for sinister reasons. Perhaps they want to infect your computer with malware or a virus, steal money from you, or embarrass you. Malware, made up of the first half of malicious and the second half of software, is software that a programmer has deliberately designed to be harmful.

Spam is also a brand of canned cooked meat that Hormel Foods Corporation sells. It consists of pork, ham meat, salt, water, potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrite.

Junk mail

Junk mail refers to unsolicited mail that companies, charities, political parties, and other entities send. However, unlike spam, the term may refer to either traditional or electronic mail.

In the early days of the Internet, we used the term extensively when talking about unsolicited electronic mail. However, ‘spam,’ appeared and started taking over.

Today, the term ‘spam’ dominates when talking about things in the digital world. We still see the word ‘junk,’ online. For example, in many email applications, there is a ‘junk’ folder, i.e., a folder for junk mail.

Video – What is junk mail

In this Alpha Graphics Tucson video, Chuck Zaepfel talks about junk mail. He starts off by explaining that most of us when we collect our mail, make two piles. One pile is for letters that matter and the other pile is for mailshots and other ‘junk.’

If you are promoting a product, where do you want the mail that you send to land? You want it to land on the pile for letters that matters.

To maximize your chances of that happening, you need to use a good direct mail company, Chuck says.

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