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Oh dear, the UK economy will collapse if B2B marketing gets regulated

7th January 2017

Yesterday I wrote about the Direct Marketing Association being upset about Ofcom's intention to start taking enforcement action against cold calling farms specialising in silent and/or abandoned calls. The lobby group had argued that the policy would result in fewer cold calls, which would disadvantage "consumers" because they would miss out on special offers – an argument that was rejected by the regulator.

It's not the only thing the Direct Marketing Association is upset about. They're also up in arms about a new ePrivacy Directive slowly making it's way through the European Parliament. Rumour goes the Directive might make it more difficult for junk marketeers to harass businesses with unsolicited sales calls and emails. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, which bans such "communications", currently only applies to "natural persons" – that is, human beings. Companies and other types of organisations ("legal persons") are not covered by the regulations. So-called B2B (business-to-business) marketing is therefore the wild-west of junk marketing, exactly how the Direct Marketing Association prefers to regulate things. There's nothing you can do if your business gets bombarded with junk calls and emails, it's fair game.

A draft of the new Directive suggests that the rules which currently apply to human beings will also be applied to businesses and other organisations. In theory, marketing pests would only be able to target businesses that have opted in to being harassed. In practice it wouldn't make any difference – the Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations are routinely ignored and it's extremely unlikely that the Information Commissioner's Office will start enforcing the regulations. Still, it's interesting to consider the Direct Marketing Association's argument against the proposed change. In a somewhat sulky press release the lobby group summarised its opposition like so:

The change in the rules for B2B marketing will have a large economic impact on businesses as they will be unable to communicate with potential customers. If businesses are unable to communicate with their prospects, then sales will take a hit and this goes down the chain affecting jobs too.

Like yesterday, it's a stunning bit of logic. The main assumption in the argument is that spending by businesses depends on, and may even be proportional to, the volume of unsolicited marketing they receive. They come up with arguments like these every time there's an attempt to regulate unsolicited marketing, without providing any hard facts to back up their predictions of economic Armageddon. In 2012, for example, they strengthened their lobby against the EU Data Privacy Directive by paying for "research" claiming that direct marketing accounts for nearly a quarter of all sales in the UK and that the marketing industry contributes £700 billion worth of sales to the economy per annum (see Direct marketing's unbelievable success story). The "research", of course, was secret – only the agency that got paid to produce the figures knows how they were arrived at. It's junk marketing, or marketing masquerading as scientific research.

Anyway, back to the argument that sales would take a massive hit if businesses would no longer receive unsolicited sales calls and e-mails. I reckon that businesses are perfectly capable to shop around and make spending decisions, without being prompted by marketeers. They don't want or need marketeers to hold their little hand and talk them through what offers are available. If there are good products and services available they'll find them as and when they need them. And those businesses that do have a need for unsolicited offers – marketing firms, perhaps – could simply opt in. If it's in their interest they'll do so.

The real lobbying should start some time this month, when the proposals are formally announced. It will be interesting to see if any politician will dare to ask the the Direct Marketing Association to provide evidence for its claims. I'll certainly be encouraging my MEPs to do so – but I'm not holding my breath.

Last updated: 
7th January 2017

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