Denny’s Daily Zinger: Direct Marketing Has Been Hijacked

I was invited to a meeting of elite direct marketers at the Yale Club last week. So elite, only 24 people showed up.
The title of the presentation: “Data Stewardship: Big Topic. Gigantic Challenge!”

It was a bitch-and-moan session about how unfair the recent Steve Croft “60 Minutes” segment was to “Data-Driven Marketing.”

“We have to convince everybody that we collect data only for marketing purposes,” was the mantra of the meeting. “Nobody understaaaaands!”

“Data is everything,” they cried, “and 675,000 jobs are at risk!”


Yep, that’s what it’s being called these days.

At a conference in Hong Kong, I was there when Stan Rapp came up with the delicious definition, “Direct Marketing is intimate advertising.”

How sweet. Gentle. I loved it!

I was proud to be part of it.

Alas, the Data Dweebs-in their crazed need for affirmation-have hijacked the industry and perverted “intimate advertising” into “Data-Driven Marketing.”

It is now the Direct Marketing Association’s slogan.

“Data-Driven Marketing”—cold, impersonal and, above all, a dog whistle! It’s like calling ObamaCare “Non-Death-Panel Health Coverage.”

(Of course “death panels” existed. They were insurance companies that refused coverage because of pre-existing conditions, causing people to die.)

“Data-Driven Marketing” is the dog-whistle that sets the attack hounds howling—privacy protectionists, consumer action groups and, above all, politicians.

I am not in “data-driven marketing.”

My profession and expertise for 50 years has been:

  • Intimate Advertising
  • Customer Delight Marketing

I used to love this business.

Right now I think it sucks.

Denny Hatch is a copywriter, designer and direct marketing consultant. Click on the title below to read the first three chapters of his most recent bookWrite Everything Right!” (Opens as a PDF) No cost. Contact him at

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • Paul Stackpole

    Intimate Marketing. Love it!

  • Greg

    You tell ’em, Denny! Response from human beings is required for marketing success; the data which results helps us get smarter, tactically speaking, but it doesn’t drive the process. "Data-driven" appeals to CFOs uneasy with the inherent risks in marketing, but we’re too often swayed by what we can measure, just because we can.

  • Robert Bly

    I DO love the advantages great data can give you. It allows you to write copy that more intimately targets the prospect’s innermost dreams and desires — exactly the kind of copy Denny is great at writing!

  • Jim Logan

    Date-Driven Marketing looks like a bandwagon moment: groupthink focused on the means as opposed to the end of direct marketing. Direct Marketing benefits from data, but data isn’t the point.

  • pfwriter

    I’m curious. How did this meeting of great DM minds end? What are the next steps?

  • directguru

    I second Bob Bly’s comment. Direct marketers know the power of information and personal communication. How can you communicate on a one-to-one basis without data?

    The truth is that novice marketers do not see the big picture. Silo growth has expanded at lightning speed with little regard to hard earned marketing terminology. Today we have social media experts, email experts, SEO experts, PPC experts, direct mail experts, branding experts ad nauseum. Tactics rather than goals and strategies rule the marketing scene.

  • Howard

    Many things have been hijacked over the past six or so years. For instance, in the middle of an article about direct marketing, you’ll sometimes see debatable commentary or even outright regurgitated propaganda on things like the health care law. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really come to believe in another mantra: Do what you love and love what you do.

  • Jim Gilbert

    We live in a time of great outrage. People need to be outraged about something, its like the coffee we drink in the morning, fuel we need to get through the day. We love to bitch and moan, to commiserate, to be indignant… its driven by 24 hour news channels, blogs… it gets eyeballs, it makes great copy and it sells ads!

    The whole GOAL of our industry is (and has always been) to make relevant offers at the right time to the right person. I learned this at the beginning of my career in DM. We used to call it database marketing, then 1;1 marketing, etc, but the goal has NOT changed. Market smarter, mail less and on and on!

    Right on Denny for another right on article!


  • Carolyn Goodman

    What’s most unfortunate is that the DMA has never invested in themselves as an organization to create and demonstrate best practices in direct marketing, thereby setting themselves apart as an industry leader. Their own data is woefully out-of-date and that’s reflected in the various communication efforts with their members. They need to invest in an experienced CMO, overhaul the database, rethink their marketing to members vs prospects vs lapsed members, and then demonstrate the power of "data-driven marketing."

  • chetdalzell

    Well, Denny — I never thought you’d hate on "data-driven" so remarkably, but points well taken. (Disclosure: I helped organize this event, and greatly thank the presenters there.) I think some of us in the business are re-assessing "direct marketing" and what it means today. For better or worse, too many CMOs and digital-primary marketers seem to assign this term to direct mail… leaving print, broadcast and digital outside the mix. Direct marketers may know this assignment not to be true, but we have many stakeholders to talk to beyond ourselves… brands, business leaders, agencies, analysts and even policymakers. With consumers, I welcome yours and Stan’s point: the customer delight angle. When data is in play (and in our business, it is always in play), how do we use it to delight prospects and customers, and do we need a marketing effort to support a public-facing campaign about the use of data to delight and serve consumer needs? One vote here: I don’t think our business sucks… and I care about how we are perceived, too.

  • staplinger-dma

    Data-Driven Marketing is very much “consumer delight marketing.” As DMA President and CEO Linda A. Woolley has often said, “It is the responsible use of consumer data that enables companies and organizations to know and target their customers, contributors, and members, to anticipate their needs, and – most importantly – to know what they want in ways that routinely thrill and delight them.”

    For example, this video is a great illustration of what we mean when we talk about delighting consumers through data-driven marketing.