Safire Editorial Misses the Point

I believe Ken Magill’s editorial response to William Safire (iMarketing News, March 19) misses the point both intellectually and politically. The reality is that people are afraid of Big Brother (Orwell’s “1984” is not an unforgotten book) and the implications of hidden, increasingly sophisticated and invasive technology. And people can see the effects: more target mailings, more personal information revealed in mass-produced letters to individuals, more personal financial information becoming public property. And they’re more afraid of what they don’t see.

Yes, I too, am in direct marketing. But I do not believe direct marketing leaders, you included, are sensitive enough to either the perceived or real threat of information dissemination. We do not live in Russia or even England. The notion of individual freedoms and privacy is central to our American psyche. Where is the industry-wide educational effort to help the public understand the benefits of direct marketing? Where are the clearly defined industry standards on disclosure of personal or transactional information to third parties?

It was only months ago that Publishers Clearing House and others settled lawsuits as a result of misleading direct marketing practices. Various attorneys general successfully argued that such practices resulted in millions of dollars being spent, weighted to the poor and elderly, on unnecessary magazine subscriptions. You did not miss these events, and neither did anyone else. This was target marketing at its best, from the standpoint of results. People who responded best were retargeted for future mailings. But from a public relations perspective, this was a disaster for direct marketing.

Against this background, how can you argue your position with such arrogance? The vitriol of your position borders on either the ignorant or the oblivious, analogous to reading the last claims of the cigarette manufacturers that, no, there are no risks, smoking doesn’t cause cancer. You are setting yourself up.

I think if direct marketing wants to avoid more legislation – legislation that neither a libertarian nor I want to see – the attitude of the industry must change. Your attitude would be a good place for that to start.

If you think libertarians are out to get you, you should read up on your political science. There are worse groups to have as enemies.

Jay Williams Jr.

Direct Marketing Results

Wayland, MA

[email protected]

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