- An Article for the DMI – February 2012
Direct Marketing is looking at its greatest ever threat. New and obtrusive ways of using the medium in order to get to consumers that are simply wrong.
Let’s be clear, they aren’t per se illegal, but that’s just because legislation hasn’t caught up with them and when it does, then it will take out vast chunks of the industry.
Take, for instance, the large insurance group that assumes that if you get a quote from them that you have opted in to all their marketing. They then bombard you from as many angles as they can, forever. It obviously works for them, otherwise why would they do it. To opt back out again you have to write to them, by traditional mail. So you take out a quote on-line, but you can only opt-out by letter.
I checked, it’s legal. It isn’t morally right, but it isn’t illegal and they think it’s perfectly OK.
Then there are the SMS spammers who send you a text saying that you are entitled to £3,500 in pay-outs from a crash you have had. They don’t even know who you are, the texts are sent out at random from a SIM that gets deactivated the second the network spots it. Is it illegal? No. They aren’t holding my personal information, it just feels personal.
The DMA is up in arms; phone networks are up in arms.
Then there is the very large social network that allows advertisers to use the demographic information about its subscribers to target consumers. Again, this isn’t just legal, it’s very clever. But is it right?
And finally, there is the incessant stream of emails that I get from companies saying that they can sell me an opt-in email list of 1,000,000’s of business names and emails for just £250.00 or whatever the paltry sum is. Simply drivel and I know that because they didn’t get my email address through “opt-in” to email me with the offer – at least not any opt-in that I, as a consumer, am aware of.
Does it pass the Watchdog/60 Minutes test?
The answer is that consumers don’t get this sort of stuff to them, it’s a bunch of weaselling. Stirring up consumers makes good column inches for newspapers and voted for politicians.
If Facebook users truly understood how it made money, would they share as much information with it? And what about Google? Is the “free” price of these services too high and, in fact, completely misunderstood by consumers?
The industry has a problem, because these companies do not consider themselves part of the establishment. In fact they refuse to be part of the establishment because the trade bodies won’t let them do what they are doing. They still continue to call what they do “Direct Marketing”. One director of one of these companies even boasted to me that they are one of the largest and most sophisticated direct marketing companies in the UK.
They laugh in the face of toothless self-regulation.
For me, the only answer has to be education – a firm and robust campaign by the industry exposing the people who do this. By this, I mean the companies and the individuals who run them being named and shamed, with people putting their heads above the parapet to do it.
Doing this might bring the potential of legal action against those people making the exposure. But look at the alternative, banning Facebook; banning e-Mail marketing in all its forms; banning Direct Mail in all its forms.
In order to do it, we need a strong and confident industry; one that can speak with one unanimous voice and which is prepared to be unpopular in some quarters. That’s asking a lot from our trade bodies and representatives.
The problem is that legislation is not a laser, it’s a sledgehammer. Once the media and political bandwagon start rolling, it is simply going to roll over the entire industry and that is going to eradicate lots of things that people want as well as the things they hate.
Few people would doubt that something needs to be done. The direct marketing industry is under attack by direct marketers. The very tools that make us successful are also being used in anger against us.
At the heart of this is pressure that is building inside the fundamental fabric of our society, we are living in an information age where good information is more valuable than gold. Protecting that information, that gold, should be of primary importance to the industry. The price to be paid for sloppy information policies is the annihilation of the industry by cack-handed law makers desperate for votes or desperate Editors desperate to fill column inches and sell papers.
What are you going to do? It’s your problem.