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Lingerie, Chain Saws And The Onslaught In Your Mailbox

Gregory Dicum, Special to SF Gate

April 27, 2005 - In an ad that ran this January in a number of newspapers, including The New York Times, a sultry model in a satin bodice and frilly feathered wings stared poutingly from the page. At first glance, it appeared to be an ad for Victoria's Secret -- except, that is, for the wicked-looking chain saw the model was holding and the tagline, which read "Victoria's Dirty Secret." In fact, it was a bold rebuke of the company for using paper from virgin forests to print its catalogs, and just one very public salvo in the many-pronged campaign to call attention to the environmental threat that arrives daily in all our mailboxes.

Junk mail is more than just an annoyance -- it's one more thing that's destroying our forests. Try this simple experiment: Set aside all the junk mail you get for the next week. By the time you're done, you'll have a pile that, if your household is typical, will weigh 1 1/2 pounds. It'll be a grab bag of unwanted catalogs for useless products, unsolicited come-ons for yet more credit cards, pleas from Robert Redford for the soul of the Democratic Party and, of course, those infernal AOL discs -- a snowstorm of unwanted paper and other material that has become part of the background of daily life. In fact, it is estimated that the average American will spend a full eight months of his or her life handling junk mail.

"In the United States, 59 catalogs per man, woman and child are sent out every year," says Shana Ortman, the paper-campaign organizer for ForestEthics, the San Francisco-based advocacy group behind The New York Times ad, whose goal is to bring attention to the unintended environmental consequences of everyday business practices.

The paper in most of that junk mail comes straight from natural forests, many of them endangered. Indeed, according to the Center for a New American Dream, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes cultural change as a way to reduce society's environmental impact, 100 million trees are cut down each year to create this tide of unsolicited correspondence.

But that's just the start of the junk mail burden. The center points out that the manufacture of all that paper uses as much energy as 600,000 SUVs would in a year. "And just one-fifth of bulk mail -- postcards, catalogs, credit card solicitations, that type of thing -- gets recycled," says Sarah Roberts, the organization's communications director.

Of course, you and I recycle our junk mail, but plenty gets thrown away, leading to 5 1/2 million tons of extra trash in the nation's landfills each year. Mortgage-refi solicitations, "free" address labels with your name misspelled, "special" deals for cable, for DSL, for toilets, for vacations, for religions -- this stuff adds up fast: Each year, nearly 100 billion pieces of bulk mail are sent around the United States, and it's junk from start to finish.

Victoria's Secret is a case in point. "They're one of the largest sources of catalogs," says ForestEthics' Ortman. "They send out 395 million catalogs a year using paper from the most critical areas of the boreal forest in Canada."

A wide swath of subarctic evergreen woodland that circles the globe in Canada, Russia and Scandinavia, the boreal forest accounts for about one-third of all the forestland left on Earth. Sparsely populated and still very wild, the region is threatened by vast clear-cuts that provide fiber for the world's seemingly unquenchable thirst for paper.

Paper itself might seem too boring to think about, yet, when it's made by destroying pristine natural forests, people like Ortman and Roberts are passionately motivated to make the connection for people and give us all one more reason to loathe junk mail.

"People aren't asking for these catalogs," says Ortman, who places the blame for the wasteful situation on the catalog companies. "People are getting catalogs they aren't asking for from lists that they can't get off of."

But she acknowledges that it's a question of education for the catalog companies, too. "The industry hasn't been aware that a lot of their paper is coming from endangered forests until recently," Ortman says, but she goes on to lament that they still "haven't been moving to change and become more responsible."

That's what really makes activists shed their fleece for lacy lingerie. At a demonstration earlier this month in San Francisco's Union Square -- part of a nationwide "day of action" that saw similar activities at more than 100 Victoria's Secret outlets across the country, bearded activists in slinky slips picketed to the amusement of lunchtime pedestrian traffic.

More than most companies, Victoria's Secret relies on provocative visual imagery. Pop-culture-friendly images of suggestively posed, nearly naked beautiful women are the company's bread and butter. This overt sexiness has enabled Victoria's Secret to grow to more than 1,000 stores across the country and allowed Limited Brands Inc., its parent company, to post more than $1.2 billion in gross profits on revenues of $3.3 billion last year. But it's a double-edged sword: Victoria's Secret pushes the envelope in using sex to sell underwear, but it's easy for activists to subvert the same images to make their point.

That's why, when the company caught wind of ForestEthics' plan to drop by with bodices and chain saws at its "Angels across America" lingerie show in New York last winter, it abruptly canceled the public portion of the event -- featuring Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum and other supermodels -- with just a few hours' notice, rather than risk embarrassing media attention.

Victoria's Secret has made some changes -- increasing its use of recycled paper in one of its minor catalogs, for example -- but Ortman notes that it has also recently renewed its contract with a major supplier of paper from endangered forests. (Victoria's Secret representatives did not return calls for comment.)

The Victoria's Dirty Secret campaign is just the most visible element of ForestEthics' attempts to get the direct mail industry to change voluntarily. "We are trying to cause an industry shift," says Ortman, recalling similar campaigns the organization has conducted with office-paper suppliers. (These campaigns involve the same public actions with chain saws, but, alas, without lingerie.)

"When we started the catalog campaign two years ago," continues Ortman, "we announced at the annual meeting of the Direct Marketing Association in San Francisco that we were going to be looking at them now. A lot of them were blown away. They had no idea: They hadn't really thought about where their paper was coming from."

It's a reflection of how everyone looks at paper: For the most part, we don't. People just don't think about where paper comes from the way we do other everyday commodities like gasoline or water.

So it cascades uninvited into our homes, even though -- aside from the 1.9 percent of people who told the Center for a New American Dream that they "really appreciate" getting AOL disks -- nobody likes junk mail and 44 percent of it gets tossed unopened. "I ordered something for my niece for her birthday," says the center's Sarah Roberts, revealing a personal motive for her passion, "and I ended up on 10 kids' catalogs about random stuff -- and I don't even have a kid!"

That's why the Center for a New American Dream is lobbying Congress for the creation of a national "do not junk" list that would allow people to block all unsolicited mail to their addresses. The concept is based on the wildly successful Do Not Call Registry, which has largely deprived households across the land of dinnertime interruptions of ringing telephones. The center reports that more than a quarter million people have gotten involved in efforts to reduce junk mail.

In the meantime, although it's sometimes nice to receive 100 pages of unsolicited soft-core porn in the mail, is it really worth the environmental cost? Junk mail is one of those few ecological problems that you can make an immediate difference about while you improve your life at the same time. Whenever you get any kind of catalog or flyer you don't want, call the company and ask to be removed from all its lists. Then you can move on to take more advanced steps. It may seem tedious at first, and you do have to remain vigilant, but in a few months the deluge really does slow down -- you'll still receive some junk mail, but these are the hard cases that the do-not-junk list is needed for.

And the environment's thanks isn't the only gratitude you will earn: The Center for the New American Dream estimates that each U.S. Postal Service letter carrier lugs around almost 18 tons of junk mail each year, adding one more indignity to the burden of sleet and snow and dark of night.

Gregory Dicum, author of Window Seat: Reading the Landscape from the Air, writes about the natural world from San Francisco. A forester by training, Gregory has worked at the front lines of some of the world's most urgent environmental crises. For more of his work, see

Online Advertising Leader AzoogleAds Grew More Than 100 Percent in the First Half of 2005, Dramatically Outpacing the Overall Growth of the Industry

NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Aug. 10, 2005--

AzoogleAds Reports Nearly 46 Billion CPA Impressions and 10 Million Unique Transactions, Underscoring Its Position as Leading CPA Advertising Network

AzoogleAds (, a leader in performance-based online advertising, today announced that during the first two quarters of 2005, the company improved revenue and EBITDA by more than 100 percent as compared to the first half of 2004. In 2004, AzoogleAds' revenues surged to $64 million.

In the first half of 2005, the AzoogleAds Network, which has more than 7,000 websites and publishers, generated approximately 46 billion cost-per-action (CPA) impressions. It generated 461 million unique click-throughs and facilitated almost 10 million transactions or sales from January to June 30th. These metrics illustrate that the AzoogleAds Network is one of the industry's largest CPA networks.

Much of this growth is attributable to AzoogleAd's fraud-proof model in which the company pays publishers only when verified actions are generated. This model enables AzoogleAds to deliver one of the most cost-effective and risk-free advertising tools available to customers such as, Omaha Steaks, Netflix,,, MatchNet, and Ask Jeeves.

"Our focus on maximizing revenue and guaranteeing return on investment for both advertisers and publishers has enabled AzoogleAds to grow into one of the industry's largest CPA ad networks," said Joe Speiser, AzoogleAds co-founder. "That volume and reach, coupled with the quality of leads generated and a performance-based model, deliver a return on advertising dollars unmatched by other providers and other advertising vehicles."

Specializing in all forms of online media, AzoogleAds offers high-impact direct marketing response and fast return on investment through banner network and site-specific advertising, online promotions, data-capture and co-registration programs, campaign management and advertising measurement. A pioneer in the performance-based advertising industry, recent network metrics illustrate that AzoogleAds has the largest network of quality traffic, with network partners reaching billions of impressions monthly.

The online advertising industry continues to grow exponentially, mushrooming to $2.8 billion in first-quarter revenues, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. And the rate doesn't seem to show signs of slowing. Forrester Research predicts that online advertising will increase by 23 percent, reaching $14.7 billion in 2005, and growing to $26 billion by 2010.

"The rapid growth we've experienced is a good illustration of the industry's trend toward allocating more and more of the ad budget toward new and more measurable forms of advertising that fuel amazing growth," said Alex Zhardanovsky, AzoogleAds co-founder. "The model of the AzoogleAds Network enables us to offer effective solutions for clients and positions us to capitalize on this industry growth and maintain our leadership position."

About AzoogleAds

AzoogleAds, founded in 2000, is a profitable and rapidly growing online advertising network that delivers customers and generates revenues for its customers. A pioneer in the performance-based advertising industry, AzoogleAds now has the largest network of quality traffic. This highly effective network coupled with proprietary technology and unparalleled industry expertise enables the AzoogleAds team to deliver the most comprehensive and cost-effective strategic online marketing campaigns for advertisers of all sizes and across all industries.

For publishers, AzoogleAds provides high-impact campaigns that enable publishers to maximize earnings on their inventory. AzoogleAds customers include, Omaha Steaks, Netflix,,, MatchNet, Ask Jeeves and Intermix, among others. The company is privately held and venture backed by TA Associates and the Stripes Group. For more information, please visit AzoogleAds' website at


Regina Barboza (Media), 973-313-1689


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