One of the positive outcomes of the new voluntary producer responsibility deal is that the Direct Marketing Association has started to advertise the existence of its Your Choice opt-out scheme again. To recap, when the junk mail lobby group redesigned the website of the Mailing Preference Service (in June) it carefully removed all links to a page with information about Your Choice, and when it relaunched its own website (in July) it deleted a page with consumer information about its opt-out schemes.
Now, after more than three months, the links and pages are back.
Have they become reasonable people?
I reckon there are two things that have made the Direct Marketing Association decide to make information about the existence of its opt-out scheme for unaddressed junk mail available again. The first is that I picked up on the issue. On this blog, in an article for Which? and in various radio interviews I have used Your Choice as the prime example of how self-regulation by the junk mail industry is failing. It's a fantastic example indeed: an industry-run opt-out scheme that's not being advertised by the industry, and that has an opt-out rate of 0.006%. What more do you want as a campaigner?
The other (more important) thing is the above-mentioned deal between the Direct Marketing Association and Defra. One of the things that has been agreed is that there should be an 'awareness target' for the new opt-out scheme; 30% of people should have some awareness of the existence of the scheme by 2014. At the moment we don't know how many people know about opt-out schemes for unaddressed junk mail; we only know the awareness of the Mailing Preference Service was 46% in 2008. In any case, 30% is a fairly ambitious target, and so the industry better starts working on achieving it.
A bit of gossip / speculation about the junk mailers
It's worth mentioning Defra had actually wanted a target for the number of registrations with the industry's opt-out schemes. This was rejected by the industry. In the talks about the deal the Direct Marketing Association argued that the number of registrations is irrelevant; what matters is that genuine junk mail haters have the option to opt out.
This is exactly how for many years Royal Mail ran its opt-out scheme for unaddressed junk mail (the Door-to-Door Opt-Out). Royal Mail did everything it could to keep the existence of its opt-out scheme secret; only those people who would contact Royal Mail and start shouting at them about all those leaflets pushed through the door by the postman were allowed to opt out. In the end the company's anti-marketing strategy became untenable; when Royal Mail suspended a postman for telling people on his round about the existence of the opt-out scheme the Daily Fascist picked up the story, and the company was forced to at least put some information about opting out on its website.
It could well be the case that the Direct Marketing Association has now also shot itself in the foot. Defra's suggestion to set a target for the number of households registered with the industry's opt-out schemes for unaddressed junk mail was rejected by the Direct Marketing Association in 2010. At the time nobody was talking about 'awareness targets'. It's quite normal that suggestions by Defra get rejected; within self-regulatory frameworks the industry has effectively a veto on any suggestions a government department makes. What usually tips the balance is when an industry really starts taking the piss. And that's exactly what the Direct Marketing Association did when it decided Your Choice should be the most obscure opt-out service that has ever existed. It allowed Defra to make a strong case in favour of Government intervention to the Environment Secretary.