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Nuts & Bolts - Eye on Privacy : What If We All Decided to Do the Right Thing?

May 2010 By Gwenn Freeman
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In the 1990s, the Direct Marketing Association ran a campaign called "Do The Right Thing" focused on getting marketers to follow industry guidelines and best practices. "Do The Right Thing" is the title of the association's expanded FAQs on its Ethical Guidelines. But what would happen if we actually took this tagline to heart? How would that change our approach to marketing? Doing the right thing forces us to think beyond the rules. Doing the right thing forces us to think like consumers first and marketers second.

I like to think of myself as an informed consumer. I enjoy receiving marketing offers and I often evaluate their effectiveness, as well as whether they followed all the rules. Recently, I had three customer encounters that made me wonder—are we, as an industry, doing the right thing?

My first encounter was a phone call, a prerecorded sales message. The marketer provided caller ID giving me a chance to opt out in the first few seconds. After the call, I started researching whether the marketer was following all the rules when it called me. I'm still not sure. The rules are clear only if you have a law degree and can follow a flowchart. The problem is my number is on the Do Not Call list. As telemarketers, even if we can justify our right to call, shouldn't we be concerned whether the phone is a channel of choice for each consumer? When a consumer registers his phone number on the DNC list, isn't that an indication of his choice?

My second encounter wasn't an offer but notification of a privacy policy change on a popular Web site. The change notice followed the rules and even encouraged me to review my settings. It went as far as suggesting settings I might use. Unfortunately, the recommendations were not based on my previous settings and were completely opposite from what I had been using. As Web site operators, should our suggestions or defaults be the most permissive, the most restrictive or somewhere in between?

My third encounter was with advance consent marketing with a negative option. I signed up online with a well-known publisher and received online access and offline materials for the program I wanted. I was surprised when I also received the first in a series of books related to, but not part of, my initial order. I'm sure that during the order process, I inadvertently failed to uncheck the box that said I wanted more books on this topic every month for the foreseeable future. The publisher accepted my cancellation with the returned merchandise. I was more frustrated with myself than I was with the marketer, because I know to look for those prechecked boxes. But should I have to? As marketers, shouldn't our offers provide enough value that consumers want to check the box themselves?



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