Perhaps the most obvious step the direct marketing industry has taken to reassure the public is the creation of the Mailing Preference Service. Set up in 1983, the MPS offers consumers who object to direct mail the opportunity to have that objection noted and, hopefully, to have the mailings stopped.
The MPS maintains a register of consumers who do not wish to receive direct mail, and any marketer using targeted mail – mailings sent to named individuals at specific addresses – is required, by the British Code of Advertising and Sales Promotion, to check mailing lists against the MPS list and delete any names that appear on it.
There are now some 320,000 households registered with the MPS, with more coming in at roughly 3,500 a month.
Because the system matches surnames with addresses, some of the names on the file will be duplicates because consumers will have moved. It is also possible for people with different surnames living at the same address to continue to get direct mail, unless that surname is also registered.
Kay Beckett, chief executive of the MPS, says: “Our research shows that people like to know we’re there. And once they register, we know they’re happy with the results.”
The MPS also maintains the Telephone Preference Service, which was launched a year ago. It performs a similar function to the MPS, but for telemarketing. Consumers who do not wish to receive telemarketing calls at home, register with it. Telemarketing companies – those which are members of the Direct Marketing Association, at least – are then supposed to check their lists and delete any numbers which are on the TPS.
There are now some 75,000 telephone numbers registered with the TPS, although Beckett admits it is not possible to say how many consumers that represents: “We deal only in telephone numbers at the moment. We are supplied with them by the telephone companies.”
She admits that as yet the system is not as well known, either among the general public or among marketers, as she would like. “It’s still such a new service – there are a lot of telemarketing companies we need to get signed up.”
The DMA is trying to get a Bill through Parliament that would create a National Deceased Register, collated from death certificates filed with the Registry of Births, Marriages & Deaths.
DMA chief executive Colin Lloyd says: “The biggest problem is trying to find a slot on the Government’s agenda – but Lord Rodgers of the Advertising Standards Authority has agreed to introduce it into the House of Lords.”
Finally, the DMA is also trying to create a national gone-away register, collated from information provided by all its members.
Lloyd estimates that such a file would save the industry at least 50m a year in wrongly addressed items.