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Lester Wunderman, Father of Direct Marketing, Dies at 98

Category: Business,Finance

“A computer can know and remember as much marketing detail about 200 million consumers as did the owner of a crossroads general store about his handful of customers,” Mr. Wunderman said in a 1967 speech. “It can know and select such personal details as who prefers strong coffee, imported beans, new fashions and bright colors. Who just bought a home, freezer, camera, automobile. Who had a new baby, is overweight, got married, owns a pet, likes romantic novels, serious reading, listens to Bach or the Beatles.”

To exploit such details about customers, he predicted, direct marketing would evolve to a point where absorbing a sales pitch and making a purchase would be almost instantaneous — or, as he put it, “where advertising and buying become a single action.”

American Express liked his ideas and created its customer rewards program. Ford, Citibank, Lufthansa, Pfizer and Burger King became clients. Record companies, book clubs, magazine publishers and other advertisers that wanted to sell directly to consumers without middle men also joined his parade.

In the 1980s, Mr. Wunderman created a form of subscription coffee, called automatic replenishment, for the Scandinavian brand Gevalia, which for decades sold products in America directly to consumers by home delivery. Gevalia also offered free introductory coffee makers and other incentives, first in direct-mail ads and later in online advertising.

With the rise of the internet in the 1990s, the opportunities for direct marketing grew exponentially. The use of cookies — small text files created by websites and stored in a user’s computer to enable websites to keep track of consumers’ preferences — created an explosion of data about people, much of it usable by direct marketers.

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