Swelling ranks of consumer ‘do not mail’ lists prompt DMA response

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This weekend, Catalog Choice added the 400,000th member to its database of consumers who have asked to be removed from catalog mailing lists. Direct marketers and the DMA have taken notice.

Launched in October by the Ecology Center and endorsed by the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nonprofit Catalog Choice ( is among a handful of new services that have popped up in the past year to help consumers reject unwanted direct mail. Environmental concerns have helped fuel that desire. A headline on the Catalog Choice home page exhorts consumers to “Simplify your life and save natural resources.”

Responding to the popularity of such sites, the Direct Marketing Association has beefed up it own opt-out service, called Mail Preference Service, which has been available to consumers for many years and enables them to opt out of direct mail.

Last month, the DMA did away with the $1 fee it previously charged consumers for registering with MPS, and it enhanced the service so that consumers can now opt out of particular catalogs and brands individually. Previously, the DMA service only gave the option of opting out of all commercial mail.

“We improved the site to allow the capability to opt in and opt out of individual brands,” said Steve Berry, exec VP-government affairs and corporate responsibility at DMA. “We upgraded the site so you can do that via the Internet.”

In addition, preferences are updated more frequently these days. “We also now require all our members to run their lists against the MPS list every month instead of every 90 days,” Berry said.

Berry readily admits the changes were made in response to new groups such as Catalog Choice.

“It is in response to these groups that have popped up, as well as surveys we’ve done,” he said. “Consumers say they want more choice and they also want to make eco-friendly choices. It was a wake-up to the industry. There is pent-up demand out there. As direct marketers, it is our job to listen to the consumer.”

George Ittner, president of apparel catalog The Territory Ahead, said third-party opt-out providers are not only unnecessary but confuse the process.

“I think we provide a valuable service to the consuming public by printing catalogs containing quality merchandise for their selection or rejection,” he said. “They can contact us directly or through DMA. Why should we have third parties that want to pile on?”

One of Ittner’s concerns about third parties is data integrity.

”I think Catalog Choice is confusing, and there are issues in my mind about the integrity of their data,” he said. “What are they doing with the names that they get? Are they using them for marketing purposes?” Ittner also said he is concerned about how marketers can verify that the names provided by these third parties are legitimate.

A database industry source said catalog merchants such as Ittner are taking different approaches when it comes to services like Catalog Choice. “Some are processing the opt-outs, but many aren’t because they don’t trust the data and its integrity,” said this observer, who asked to remain anonymous. Another worry is that Catalog Choice and others are sending address information through e-mail, which “is not a secure mode of transmission for sensitive data,” according to the source.

DMA agreed, noting that third-party opt-out lists are neither verified nor authenticated, and that there is no explicit promise from the third parties that consumer address data will not be used for marketing purposes.

But the DMA will need to react quickly if it hopes to avoid a repeat of the National Do Not Call Registry, one of the most popular pieces of legislation in recent history. At the time, observers said marketers and the DMA were too slow to react meaningfully to consumer complaints and paid the price in the form of a federal law. Currently nine state legislatures are considering bills that would create state-run do not mail registries.

Meanwhile, a pro direct mail group that is part of the DMA called Mail Moves America is working with state business groups and communicating with legislators about the importance of direct mail for consumers, businesses and the economy in order to lobby against the creation of a do not mail list.

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