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We need to educate about what opting out means

It’s been quite a year for our industry. This was the year in which viewers of the BBC’s 'Brassed Off Britain' blasted direct mail by voting it the thing they found most irritating, writes Suzanne Lewis, director of list broking services at HLB.

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It was also the year in which the number of people registering on MPS began to rise to levels that cause concern to us all.

As an industry we do, of course, support MPS, if for no other reason than, by the time consumers have gone to the trouble of registering, it is a clear indication of the strength of their feeling against being sent mail and there is no commercial benefit to be gained by contacting those who have expressly told us not to.

Yet, to date, no follow-up research exists that looks at whether opting out has actually effected the changes consumers wanted to see and reduced the irritation that drove them to take action in the first place. My belief is that, if such research were to be undertaken, we would find a group of consumers who are still disgruntled and confused -- for one simple reason.

Indulge me for a moment and take this quick test. If the following landed on your doormat, which would you consider to be the odd one out? A card from the local taxi company, a loan offer from your bank, or a charity mailer from a child-protection charity. Top marks if you picked the charity mailer because this is the only piece that opting out would keep from your door.

Those of us within the industry should understand that opting out will not prevent the majority of mailings that contribute towards consumers' feelings of irritation (perhaps ironically it would only prevent the one item in the given list that they actually might feel positive about receiving). But consumers don't understand that registering with MPS will neither stop door drops nor warm house mailings.

Again, responsible mailers, headed by the DMA, are working hard to uphold best practice. But this isn't enough. The DMA has worked hard to promote MPS as something that gives consumers choice and control, but I still believe that we have the onerous task of educating the public about what opting out really means and why direct mail isn't the malevolent force they think it is. And this is our real problem, compounded by the fact that the normal channels of education themselves need educating.

We need to educate those in the media who like to run "lonely pensioner buried under deluge of unwanted junk mail" type stories and aren't interested in talking up the fact that direct mail generates customers and donations without which many businesses and certainly most charities would struggle to survive. We need to educate certain players in our own industry who are willing to sacrifice long-term growth for short-term doormat bombing that isn't even tactical. Then, once we have these two groups in line, we can turn to consumers.

Strangely, we talk about the need for education, but we don't actually fund it. We are all in the business of persuasion, but we don't direct our best talents to where they will increasingly count the most if this trend towards opting out continues. And consumers who have opted out will remain irritated as the mail they thought they had stopped continues to arrive on their doormats.

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