Privacy Backlash Minimal Offline

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As the online privacy debate keeps Web marketers in the spotlight, legislators busy and consumers fearful, traditional list marketers claim there has been little impact on offline direct mailers due to key differences in consumer reaction and industry practices.

"I don't see any effect on offline direct mail currently, but that doesn't mean that it won't happen," said Howard Kupfer, executive vice president at Mokrynski & Associates Inc., Hackensack, NJ.

Many direct marketers agreed that the main factors that will determine whether their privacy practices come under fire are consumer perceptions and actions.

Consumers believe Internet marketing poses a much greater threat to the safety of their personal information than offline channels, said Herb Torgersen, vice president of management services, Response Media Products Inc., Atlanta.

At least one privacy advocate favors legislation that would apply to both online and offline information practices, though legislators may not agree.

"There's a widespread consensus in Washington that some Internet privacy legislation is inevitable within the next year, and a lot of effort has been made to contain it from spilling over into the envelope world," said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp., Green Brook, NJ.

Some offline marketers said the consumer focus on the Internet would help them avoid inclusion in such legislation.

"The government reacts to consumer attitudes and complaints, and if the privacy issues are focused on the Internet, the government will stick to the issues at hand," said Richard Baumer, president of VentureDirect Worldwide, New York.

Catlett said consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about their privacy offline.

"The expectation of consumers has moved from an opt-out model to an opt-in model," he said.

While Web marketers have started making attempts at creating industry standards and promoting self-regulation, offline direct marketers have been policing themselves for years with the help of the Direct Marketing Association, said Kupfer. Through the use of the DMA Mail Preference Service, and the marketers' own mailing suppression lists, he believes consumers have adequate means to opt out of unwanted mailings.

However, Catlett stated that nonmembers of the DMA are not bound by the MPS, making it somewhat ineffective.

However, he added, "In the catalog world, if an effective opt-out were available, I think an opt-out basis would be acceptable."

Other hot-button privacy issues such as online tracking and profiling do not translate offline, Kupfer said.

Although offline marketers keep transactional information when their customers make purchases, cookie technology gives online marketers the ability to collect much more personal information and link it with other information, Torgersen said.

Offline direct marketers agreed that the differences between online and offline direct marketing are too significant to be looked at in the same way.

"I think privacy concerns about traditional direct marketing need to be addressed separately from Internet concerns," Baumer said.

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