Election triggers compliance and data concerns

Mark Roy
Mark Roy: DMA welcomes political marketing, providing it follows the guidelines

With a General Election on 6th May, data owners doubt there will be a buying spree by the main parties, but fear information could get misused in the race for power. Although the Conservatives are expected to spend the £19 million maximum in their campaign, against cash-strapped Labour’s £8 million, outdoor media will be the bigger buy. However, digital ads and email will also play a big part.

Mark Roy, chairman of the DMA Data Council, says/ “We welcome the professional use of data by the political parties and hope that they will make use of the talent and knowledge available in the marketplace.”

He believes all the parties are likely to have their voter data in good order already. “It is likely that marketing campaigns will have been planned in advance. Time will tell if the major parties have been mindful of the guidelines and we hope that the British public are not the recipients of badly-targeted DM.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office issued guidelines on political marketing in March warning that it must follow the same strictures as commercial activity, especially with regard to data permissions. But Roy is sceptical about the level of compliance: “Based on their existing track record, I suspect the parties will do whatever they can to further their own political course.” However, he argues that voters will respond positively if their data is used correctly.

Emma Street, consultancy director at Rapp, believes data owners will not get an election-time revenue boost: “If the political parties haven’t already got their campaign databases in order – ie, fully compliant and with a well planned communications strategy in place – it’s probably too late. Any late data buying spree will probably be ineffectual and risk falling foul of the ICO warnings.”

She expects digital channels, especially social networks like Mumsnet, to play a key role to avoid this risk. “The net result will be for the parties to shy away from DM in favour of social media, rather than risk falling foul of the Data Protection Act,” she says.

DM could still be a valuable weapon, especially in the face of consumer cynicism. “Voters have lost faith in politicians who, now more than ever, need that one-to-one dialogue with the voter to build trust, understanding and credibility. Well thought-out, carefully targeted, timely email communications will be well received alongside traditional door-knocking. But a back to basics approach is what’s required/ right message, right channel, right time,” argues Street. “Beware the politician that doesn’t understand the person he canvasses!”

At Acquity, commercial director Steven Reid notes that some brands may look to piggy-back the election with tactically-timed messages. “I had an enquiry just this morning from an agency wishing to buy a list of all over-18s who are UK taxpayers. This would suggest that the creative people in marketing agencies are starting to think how data and messaging will play an important role in the forthcoming elections and will be a good source of business for some direct marketing businesses,” he says.

Reid also sees digital as a key campaigning tool. “Email is going to be a key delivery mechanism and may well prove to have a ’green’ underlying agenda,” he says. “The tools are out there to help them. Let’s hope they do the right thing and use them.”

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