Direct marketing is a form of communicating an offer, where organizations communicate directly to a pre-selected customer and supply a method for a direct response. Among practitioners, it is also known as direct response marketing. By contrast, advertising is of a mass-message nature.
The prevalence of direct marketing and the unwelcome nature of some communications has led to regulations and laws such as the CAN-SPAM Act, requiring that consumers in the United States be allowed to opt out.
Intended targets are selected from larger populations based on vendor-defined criteria, including average income for a particular ZIP code, purchasing history and presence on other lists. The goal is “to sell directly to consumers" without letting others “join (the) parade."
Direct marketing, using catalogues, was practiced in 15th-century England and Europe. The publisher Aldus Manutius of Venice printed a catalogue of the books he offered for sale. In 1667, the English gardener, William Lucas, published a seed catalogue, which he mailed to his customers to inform them of his prices.