Opt-out services such as the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and Mailing Preference Service (MPS) are free facilities that allow consumers to choose the kind of sales calls and direct mail they want to receive. They also help direct marketers to improve targeting and, ultimately, boost return on investment.
But there is concern among the not-for-profit services, direct marketing and data and media owners about a newer breed of opt-out services that are dedicated to the “elimination of unwanted sales calls and junk mail”, but at a cost to customers.
The MPS is funded by the direct mail industry to enable UK consumers to have their names and home addresses removed from lists used by the industry.
The service’s “consumer file”, a list of names and addresses of consumers who want to limit the amount of direct mail they receive, aims to remove their names from up to 95% of lists.
The TPS, a central opt-out register for consumers who do not want to receive unsolicited sales and marketing phone calls, gives consumers legal protection by barring companies from making calls to TPS-registered numbers.
Direct marketers argue that it is not just consumers who benefit from opt-out services; such services filter out the unresponsive by identifying and removing consumers who would be irked by a call or a piece of mail.
Thomas Adalbert, managing director of price comparison site BeatThatQuote.com, says opt-out services help improve targeting and boost ROI. “You send less mail, but more efficiently. There was resistance at first, but people have decided it is a good idea. Mail campaigns become more targeted.”
The economic environment and pressure on marketing budgets has also seen direct marketers turn to the data sets provided by opt-out services to complement their own data tools and lists.
Royal Mail head of data strategy Keith Jones says/ “The recession has focused marketers to scrutinise their activities even more closely to ensure they achieve maximum ROI.
“As a result, campaigns are being developed more carefully, using the most appropriate media channels so the audience is targeted in the right place and at the right time. Opt-out services can play an important role in this.”
Despite the view that opt-out services are partners in the quest for ROI, some services view the relationship as far from cordial.
The Anti-Marketing Group, on its nomoremarketing.co.uk website, claims it will go further than the TPS and MPS by stopping “99.9% of nuisance marketing straight away”, rather than the four months the MPS says it takes for consumer requests to take effect and the 28 days required to action requests made through the TPS.
But the group’s service comes at a cost. It charges consumers £3 a month, £29.99 a year or a £59.99 one-off fee for lifetime membership in return for blocking “unsolicited phone calls and junk mail” and an “innovative ongoing service”.
It says it files consumers’ details “with a number of different schemes dedicated to stopping companies being able to contact you. Once subscribed to these schemes, it becomes illegal for a company to contact you without first obtaining your consent”.
Data and media owners have queried the methods used to achieve this. There is also concern that there is a lack of transparency and proof of effectiveness.
John Pooley, managing director of The Data Partnership, says: “My concerns about these companies is not so much what they do, but more the way they do it.”
DMA chief of operations Mike Lordan says most alternative opt-out services that claim to offer the same service as the TPS and MPS “do so at considerable financial cost to the consumer and lack proof of their effectiveness”.
The Anti-Marketing Group says subscribers to its service are “extremely happy with the results”, and many have seen better results than with the TPS and MPS. It adds: “Our subscribers are so resistant to marketing that they are willing to pay a small premium for an extensive service to stop it.
“These are not consumers who welcome marketing whatsoever and so the direct marketing industry would be wasting time and money contacting them.
“We target the marketing problem at source, the areas in which our consumers’ details are being sold for canvassing purposes. We target the source directly to remove our subscribers’ details.”
The group claims it offers a service that “consumers are looking for” and it is not “in competition” with the MPS and TPS.
But services such as the Anti-Marketing Group need to be run, as Pooley says, “legitimately, with full transparency and accountability”. Direct marketers should view opt-out services that fit those criteria – be they not-for-profit or chargeable – as a way to improve targeting.