*DMA Ethics Panel Starts Naming Names

The Direct Marketing Association for the first time this week named two companies it said did not cooperate with its ethics committee's investigations into possible violations. Infoseek Corp., one of the companies, however, said it wasn't aware it was being investigated.

It isn't Infoseek's policy to ignore such issues, said Carol Smith, associate general counsel for the company. “We try to be very responsive,” she said.

The DMA named Infoseek, Santa Clara, CA, and a second company because they were the first who didn't respond to grievance queries since the DMA's 15-member ethics committee said it would begin naming uncooperative firms in the ethics Case Reports it publishes three times a year, said Marsha Goldberger, director of ethics and consumer affairs at the DMA.

The DMA said the committee sent Infoseek president Harry Motro three letters — one by registered mail — one fax and called the company twice regarding alleged inappropriate placement of an ad for the Match.com Internet dating service on a section of Infoseek called Infoseek: The Kids and Family Channel, in November 1997.

“It was just a question about the appropriateness of a dating service [on The Kids and Family Channel],” Goldberger said. “Children's marketing issues — especially online — have been a major thing. We just hoped to get a response from them.”

Infoseek downplayed the issue.

“It sounds like [the DMA is] more upset that we somehow missed their letter,” Smith said. “The general rotational ad that could have appeared wasn't pornographic. It was just a dating service. I don't think that's a breach of ethics.”

At press time yesterday, Infoseek chief operating officer Les Wright said that he didn't know of the DMA's attempts to contact his company and that he was unable to reach Motro in time to comment.

Goldberger said the DMA did all it could to reach Infoseek.

“We wrote to the president of the company — and usually when you write the president of a company, if he or she doesn't respond, they pass it on to somebody else,” she said. “We made it very clear what the policy was and sent them information about the [ethics] committee's procedures and that if the committee did not get a response, then the committee could choose to make the finding public. All of that was given to [Infoseek] up front, so I'm not really sure what will come next.”

In the other DMA ethics case, AMA Reports/Triple Eight International, Portage, MI, mailed what the DMA called “official looking” documents containing the words “This is a Real Document” and guaranteed $500,000 in prize money to consumers who completed, signed and returned the papers with a $19.95 “report and processing fee.”

The DMA said it sent the company two letters and the second was returned marked “Box closed, no forwarding address.” Directory assistance had no listings for AMA Reports/Triple Eight International in Portage, MI.

Neither company named in the ethics report are DMA members.

“Of course, enforcement is stronger if it is a member because we can take action that may affect company membership, but we really want to encourage all industry members to abide by the guidelines [for ethical business practices] and cooperate,” Goldberger said.

How the DMA will treat uncooperative members in future ethics reports remains to be seen.

“This is a positive step and the DMA should be commended,” said Cleo Manuel, vice president of public affairs for the National Consumers' League, Washington, an advocacy group. “But you're only as good as your word and if you're going to name nonmembers, you need to name members, as well.”

The DMA's ethics committee said it investigated 24 cases from April to July, the period covered in the most recent case report. The committee has 15 cases pending, 10 of which involve DMA members, Goldberger said. Several of the cases involve sweepstakes practices, several involve data collection and use practices, and two involve honesty-in-advertising issues.

The DMA sends the Case Reports to a variety of consumer protection groups, including a network of Better Business Bureaus, the Federal Trade Commission and postal inspectors, Goldberger said.

“We have a list of about 750 agencies that are interested in consumer protection issues,” she said.

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