Given the political success that do-not-call legislation generated for many politicians, some are seeking to latch onto direct mail in a ploy for short-term political gain, regardless of the consequences. Do-not-mail legislation is percolating in four states, including New York and Massachusetts.
Perhaps resting on the hope that similar legislation will not pass because there is not the same type of public outcry against “junk mail” as there was against telemarketing, the direct marketing industry has taken a lackadaisical attitude so far toward these developments. Given the setbacks in telemarketing, this approach may prove foolhardy.
Pending legislation. Do-not-mail bills are pending in New York, Massachusetts and Missouri. They have a common theme, though some are more troubling than others.
Of greatest concern is the New York bill, which would create a “Do Not Offer Statewide Registry.” The bill would establish a registry of New York residents who do not wish to receive unsolicited direct mail sent for the sale or offer of goods or services, including offers sent by credit card companies. Though it would have exemptions – notably direct mail sent in response to a customer request or where an established business relationship exists – such a law would have an enormous effect, given the state’s population and precedential role.
Similarly, a bill in Missouri would establish a do-not-mail database of residents who chose to opt out from all unsolicited mailings. It has broader exemptions than New York’s. If enacted, the law would exempt direct mail by nonprofits or mail to residents who have given prior express invitation or permission. It would adopt the Federal Trade Commission’s established business relationship exemption by exempting direct mail sent by a marketer who has had business contact with the resident in the past 180 days or a current business relationship. But in a blow to interstate commerce, it would offer an exemption only to people licensed by the state of Missouri to carry out a trade, occupation or profession who are setting or attempting to set a business appointment.
Massachusetts is considering slightly different legislation. It would require mailers to provide opt-out information in each mailing informing recipients how they can request to receive no future mailings. A company that receives such a request would be required to remove the resident and residence from the mailing list within two months. Failure to do so would result in a fine of $100 to $500 per incident.
In Hawaii, a House resolution urges Congress to approve legislation requiring the U.S. Postal Service to provide mail recipients the option of being included on a list of those not wishing to receive any unsolicited mail.
Call to action. It is critical that the DM industry take note to prevent this unnecessary legislation from moving forward and wreaking havoc. Once one state passes this type of legislation, you can bet your control piece that other states will try to enact similar laws. Do not forget that the national no-call registry has 88 million telephone numbers and is creating compliance nightmares for even the most ethical and technologically savvy companies. The federal DNC legislation was not developed in Washington. It was spun from state legislation that continued to grow throughout the country. The same is true for sweepstakes legislation.
In countering these bills, DMers should remember that the main principle that spearheaded the telemarketing legislation is not present when contemplating unwanted direct mail. Direct mail is not invasive or “harassing,” because consumers can choose at their convenience whether they want to look at or dispose of a specific piece of mail. At the same time, it provides marketers an efficient, effective way to reach the marketplace.
For many years, the Direct Marketing Association has offered its Mail Preference Service, which is designed to help consumers decrease the amount of national nonprofit or commercial mail they get at home. This lets consumers register their name and address, which then is placed on a file available to companies and charities that use the MPS. Given the longstanding existence of the MPS and the lack of public outcry against unwanted junk mail, hasn’t the industry already addressed the issue?
However, if we remain silent on the matter, it may be too late to prove otherwise.