Fax advertisers hanging on in industry grappling with growth of social media

Sam Ayoub knows a thing or two about making money in an unlikely place.

He has been convincing companies for the last 24 years to drop cash on a marketing medium from a previous era: fax advertising.

Ayoub and his InFax business operate seven offices across Canada that fire off more than 60 million faxes a year for clients advertising everything from events and financing services to travel packages and education seminars.

Ayoub knows his business and others like it are “the underdog.”

Their missives sometimes spit out of machines that are covered with a thick layer of dust and reaching a wide audience can now be done with a few clicks and amplified even further for a couple extra dollars via email and social media.

Still Ayoub believes his business is surviving due to his ability to deliver messages right to the heart of offices and avoiding the main trouble of online advertising: the human tendency to scroll past it.

“The perception is getting higher that fax broadcasting is irrelevant,” Ayoub admitted. “Clients have tried many marketing tools in order to get some returns. They always come back to fax broadcast because the returns are still there.”

InFax’s website shows it charges 30 cents a page when a customer is sending 200 to 400 faxes, but the rate drops as low as two cents a page for clients sending 100,000 faxes or more.

By contrast, you can run campaigns on Facebook and Twitter for as little as a few dollars, though reaching a larger or more targeted audience can be more expensive.

The strength of the content and the frequency with which someone encounters it determines how much traction an advertisement can get, though it can be hard to know what kind of returns it generates because fax technology isn’t rooted in clicks and analytics.

However, Ayoub suspects clients are still finding returns because he has customers who pour considerable money into a campaign every week or month.

Not everyone agrees.

Ryan Moore, the owner of a Toronto-based jewellery business that specializes in custom pieces, says he spent about $400 for a company to send about 2,000 faxes every week for three months, but found the results disappointing.

“There is no return on it,” he said. “I prefer Facebook and Instagram. We get more business from that than fax marketing.”

David Soberman, a University of Toronto marketing professor, said direct mail and traditional media advertising have been hit hard by the digital era, but fax marketers have suffered mainly because reliance on fax machines has dwindled at offices outside the health care and legal professions, which still use them for sensitive documents.

“Marketing relies on having significant penetration within a segment,” he said. “It’s an older demographic that has fax machines. I have never heard of young adults or millennials having a fax machine.”

Diego Diaz, president of Toronto-based Fax Marketing Canada, said clients are still finding returns on fax marketing, but that doesn’t mean he thinks the industry is as rosy as it was in its prime.

Diaz has had to restructure his company, close two of its offices and invest in other ventures because of a 70 per cent drop in business.

He’s watched travel companies turn away from fax marketing to use Expedia or other travel websites for advertising instead. Private health-care businesses used to bring in anywhere from $25,000 to $45,000 a month in sales because they used fax marketing to advertise to U.S. customers without insurance, but many of them went out of business after the introduction of Obamacare.

Now, he said he’s left with “mom-and-pop” businesses and medical companies advertising seminars, supplies and research directly to doctors.

“There is still room to make money, but I think one day, maybe in the next 10 years, it will be gone,” he said.

“It was a good ride while it lasted.”

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