Recently there have been big increases in those registering with preference services to not receive marketing communications through various channels. What are the latest figures and what do these mean for the UK’s direct marketers? Stephen Groom opts in.
Topic: Direct marketing
Who: The Telephone Preference Service, Corporate Telephone Preference Service, Fax Preference Service, Mailing Preference Service
When: April 2007
Latest figures available show continuing growth in those registering their desire not to receive unsolicited marketing communications by telephone, fax or post.
Of the UK's "Do not fax/call/mail" lists (or preference services as we quaintly call them) all are administered by the Direct Marketing Authority but one is not statutory. This is the "Do not mail" or "Mailing Preference Service".
When and why an MPS check?
Marketers looking to send direct marketing by post to consumers or businesses are under no legal obligation to check against the MPS list. So why and in what circumstances is an MPS check still essential?
The "circumstances" are where an unsolicited postal mailing to consumers is planned and the "why" comes from the CAP Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing or "CAP Code" (and also for DMA members the DMA Direct Marketing Code of Practice) and also from the Data Protection Act 1998.
The CAP Code requires at 43.2 c that "marketing communications are not sent to consumers who have asked not to receive them."
Of course a consumer may have approached the marketer direct with a request not to receive mailings, but registration on the MPS list achieves the same purpose. Accordingly all UK marketers contemplating a postal mailing to consumers should pre-check the MPS list. Otherwise if a complaint is made by a disappointed recipient they face a complaint upheld finding by the Advertising Standards Authority.
Data Protection Act issue
The Data Protection Act issue arises from the right conferred by that statute on all individuals to object to use of their data for direct marketing. Again MPS registration is an accepted way of doing this and failure to run a check followed by a mailing to an MPS-registered recipient could result in the unwelcome attentions of the Information Commissioner's Office.
MPS registrations jump
And for those who try to ride their luck and wing it without an MPS check, the chances are becoming ever greater that disappointment will befall. As of 31 March 2007 over 3.3 million were registered with the MPS.
The numbers were somewhat artificially boosted in Summer 2006 after the media spotlight fell on a UK postman who took it upon himself to advise his "customers" of what they could do about unaddressed mail and suffered at the hands of his employers as a result.
Although the MPS is an address-based suppression file and has nothing to do with unaddressed mail, its profile was still raised as a result of the press interest and the numbers of those registering jumped over the ensuing months and continue to increase at a higher rate than before.
UK "Do not call" systems
For telephone marketing the Telephone and Corporate Telephone Preference Services meet the "Do not call" desires of respectively individual and corporate subscribers.
Both are purely numbers-based systems, so a corporate subscriber for example which wanted all its employees to stop receiving cold calls would have to register every one of its staff's direct dial numbers.
On the mobile side, mobile phone numbers can be registered on the TPS and CTPS but the systems do not apply to text or multimedia messages, only voice calls.
The Corporate Telephone Service only came into existence in June 2004 and already has well over a million numbers on its list, although a significant proportion of that number arises from blanket registrations by big UK corporations of all direct dial numbers.
Unlike the MPS, prior checking with both the TPS and CTPS is a legal obligation unless there is clear evidence that the call's recipient has clearly indicated direct to the caller that they do not object to receiving such calls.
J. Clarkson effect
The Telephone Preference Service has been around for far longer than the CTPS but like the MPS it recently underwent a spike in registrations by a sidewind involving a third party.
The third party in that case was BT and the sidewind was a high profile TV campaign in the summer of 2005 starring Jeremy Clarkson and promoting a new BT "Privacy" service.
The service involved amongst other things BT helping consumers reduce cold calls by registering with the TPS on their behalf.
What turns out to have been unclear was whether BT was offering more than the TPS registration service already available to the public direct. At least so much was suggested by the fact that thousands of those who rushed to sign up for BT's service turned out to have long since been already registered with the TPS.
By this means mainly, TPS registrations have jumped to a point where at 14.4 million as of 31 March 2007, telemarketers face the chilling prospect of the home telephone numbers of around 30% of the UK's adult population being out of bounds for cold calling purposes.
Fax marketing issues "so 20th century"?
Some might think fax marketing very "last century" but according to the Information Commissioner's Office, complaints received in respect of unwanted commercial faxes still significantly outstrip complaints over spam for example.
The regulatory regime for fax marketing is statutory again but here the Fax Preference Service is irrelevant to marketing faxes sent to consumers. This is because under the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 fax marketing communications may not be sent to individual subscribers at all without the recipient's prior opt in.
FPS cuts in for corporate subscribers. Companies must not be sent commercial faxes if they have registered their numbers beforehand with the FPS. Over 1.9 million numbers were registered with the FPS as of 31 March 2007.
Why this matters:
All indications are that the UK operates the most sophisticated, most high profile, most multi channel, most respected and most used "Do not market" systems in the world.
Whether these systems are the "most observed and enforced" is another question, but by all accounts the new Direct Marketing Authority Chairman Matti Alderson intends to address precisely these issues during her tenure. We wish her well and look forward to seeing how she fares.
Head of Marketing and Privacy Law
Osborne Clarke London