When Boots thought they would give opt-outers a chance to reconsider, half a million responded positively but twenty eight complained to the Advertising Standards Authority.
Topic: Data privacy
Who: The Boots Company plc and the Advertising Standards Authority
When: September 2001
When Boots the chemist invited applications for their “Advantage Card” customer loyalty scheme, they sensibly provided applicants with an opportunity to “opt out” of receiving further mailings. Half a million did exactly that, so 28 of them complained to the Advertising Standards Authority when some time later, despite having opted out, they received a Boots mailing. This acknowledged that they had opted out, but pointed out that as a result they were missing out on Boots “Health & Beauty” magazine and offered them the opportunity of opting in to enjoy future issues.
In their submissions to the ASA, Boots pointed out that 100,000 opt-outers had actually opted in to receive the magazine. That didn’t cut any ice with the ASA, however, who emphasised that the magazine offer was peripheral to the loyalty scheme. In those circumstances the simple act of sending the mailing to the very individuals who had opted out of receiving them was a breach of the British Code of Advertising and Sales Promotion and the complaints were upheld.
Why this matters:
What Boots did seems perfectly reasonable. They observed “opt-in” so far as the magazine offer was concerned and took the trouble to explain to recipients why they were mailing them even though they had previously opted out. Unfortunately courtesy and apparent reasonableness were not enough to wipe away the problem under the Code, whose provisions are consistent with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998. So even though Boots may not have been legally obliged to provide the opt-out opportunity in the first place, having chosen the best practice route it was important that they stick with this and respect the wishes of customers who had opted out.