The issue of the Direct Marketing Association’s ability to police the telemarketing industry was thrown into the public spotlight with a report by Which? that exposed flaws in its Telephone Preference Service. According to a survey by the consumer association, people who register for the TPS opt-out service receive double the number of calls than those who are not signed up to it
For the media, obsessed as it is with "junk mail" and associated unwanted and irresponsible advertiser intrusion, the report provided irresistible copy and an opportunity to knock the DM industry. However, it did not portray an entirely rounded view on the situation, as the nuisance calls were being made by companies that operated outside of the DMA’s sphere of control.
The DMA itself has demanded that the Government does more to punish these rogue traders, who are threatening to harm the legitimacy of the TPS and those companies that abide by its rules. However, in the consumer’s mind, is there the danger that the damage has already been done and that all companies that operate in this area are guilty of the misdemeanours of a few?
Victoria Fox, managing director, Lida
"Yes. The DM industry must push hard for tougher regulations. There is an enormous difference between a call from a mobile provider to a long-standing customer, which essentially leads to a loyalty bonus, and a cold-caller pushing a conservatory to a city apartment dweller. However, all calls are now distrusted because the cold-call cowboys have ridden roughshod over the industry’s reputation. This now means if regulation isn’t tightened up, these tried-and-trusted channels will slowly be closed off to responsible marketing teams who rely heavily on them, not least charity brands. If texts and calls are shut down, the wings of a largely great industry will be clipped."
Chris Pearce, managing director, TMW
"Are the failings of the TPS damaging the direct marketing industry? In a word: no. Undesirable as nuisance calls are, the failings of the TPS are, in my opinion, more about a breach of trust in a specific service than a reflection of the broader DM industry. Today, direct marketing is about much more than telemarketing. I believe most consumers recognise the distinction between unsolicited calls and the wide-ranging information and offers they receive from brands when they’ve specifically opted in to receive their direct marketing. The failings of the TPS are having a negative impact on telemarketing but not the DM industry as a whole."
Jane Asscher, founding partner, strategy and management, 23red
"The industry has been ambivalent towards preference services. On the one hand, it has seen the need to have them as part of the self-regulatory framework. On the other, it hasn’t promoted them vigorously for fear too many people will take themselves off the list market. Proposals have been made to improve the preference services, but nothing has been done. For example, instead of a blanket opt-out, people could delete specific categories that they find irrelevant, annoying or both. On the other hand, they could opt into ones of interest when they’re in the market. We need preference services that reflect customer needs better and are policed more strictly."
Chris Whitson, planning partner, VCCP me
"No. It is arguably damaging to the DMA, which is probably why it has responded so vociferously with demands for tighter regulation. In fairness, though, Ofcom has begun to hand out some hefty fines to the worst offenders. However, sticking 1,000 names on a dialer and ramming through each one in turn is not direct marketing – there is no targeting or application of data. It is the telephone equivalent of the pizza-delivery flyers that make it difficult to open the front door, and most consumers we speak to recognise the difference between this and well-targeted, relevant and (sometimes) useful communications they receive from brands they trust."
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