The guidelines are part of DMA's new "Commitment to Consumer Choice" (CCC) program, which aims to enhance consumers' control of the direct mail they receive. DMA has, of course, long offered its central Mail Preference Service (MPS) enabling consumers to opt out of promotional mail from all DMA members, or mail from individual member companies (as well as e-mail and telephone preference services).
But given the waves of legislation emanating from states - this year, "do not mail" bills were proposed in 15 states and data security bills in 38 states, for example - DMA president John Greco stressed that making mail choice more readily available and easier to activate by the consumer is clearly in the industry's best interests. DMA efforts have prevented passage of such bills, but the industry faces increasingly serious threats to self-regulation from green, privacy and other activist groups exerting pressure on legislators, he said.
And as some marketers point out, the National Do Not Call Registry and CAN SPAM Act are prime examples of self-regulation being taken out of business's hands.
The new CCC guidelines require that members:
* Include on every piece of commercial solicitation mail sent to both customers and prospects a notice apprising consumers of the opportunity to "modify the receipt of future mail solicitations."
The notice statement must include a reference to the option of eliminating future commercial mailings from the company, but marketers may choose their own wording and may also opt to include other options, such as reducing the number of mailings received from the company.
The choice statement need not act as an actual opt-out vehicle, though some mailers may choose to go that route. Many are likely to use the notice to refer consumers to a Web site (or phone number) where consumers can manage their options.
While this guideline and the others take effect immediately, and direct marketers are being urged to implement the notice requirement as soon as possible, the DMA will delay beginning its "systematic monitoring process" for the notice requirement for a year to enable marketers to test wording and implement the notices, according to Steven K. Berry, DMA's EVP, government affairs and corporate responsibility.
* Disclose, upon request by a consumer, the source from which the direct marketer obtained personally identifiable data about that consumer.
* Use the DMA's Mail Preference Service (MPS) file every month (previously, the requirement was quarterly use), so that a consumer's request for in-house suppression is honored within 30 days. DMA members must also continue to refrain from mailing the consumer for a minimum of three years from the date the request is received.
Direct marketers interviewed by Marketing Daily uniformly said that the CCC source disclosure and monthly MPS usage requirements present little or no problem. Several said they already have these practices in place, and some voluntarily make it a policy to stop mailings for five years to customers who have opted out.
But direct marketers do report that the notice requirement is raising concerns about potential impacts on response; extending proactive mail opt-out options that many now provide to customers to prospects, as well; and working out logistical issues.
"No one wants to mail to people who don't want our mail, but changing anything on a control package can affect response," says one marketing executive. "We can try to minimize the impact with testing, but I wish there was a less onerous way to achieve this goal."
Another direct marketer confirms that her company views the notice requirement as necessary and will start testing wording early next year and be ready for roll-out by the Oct. 15, 2008 enforcement deadline. However, she adds that many questions arise, ranging from how individual marketers will ensure that service bureaus can get all opt-outs/preferences coming in both directly and through the DMA onto files efficiently, to dealing with areas of potential consumer/marketer confusion such as consumers providing conflicting preference instructions or being irritated by continuing to receive non-promotional mail after ordering a product but also opting out of getting future solicitation mail from a company.
Still, since all members will be required to demonstrate CCC understanding and compliance by completing an orientation and training program, there should be time to answer questions and work through issues.
Some direct marketers say that whatever is involved in achieving compliance, it is unimportant in the context of the dynamics driving the CCC.
"We're in an age where consumers have lots of control, and we need to be responsive to their preferences every step of the way," says Harte-Hanks Inc. spokesperson Chet Dalzell. "Marketers claim and seek to be customer-centric, and if that's the case, we need to walk the talk. Marketers do communicate with customers about preferences and respect these, but it's important to extend this to prospects-and demonstrate our complete commitment to consumer choice to the regulators."
"Time Inc. supports the DMA commitment to choice," says Brian Wolfe, president of consumer marketing for the company and a DMA board member. "Any policy that makes it clearer to consumers how not to receive mail that they do not want is a policy that we support."