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Direct Marketing Association delays launch of opt-out scheme for unaddressed junk mail - indefinitely

A new opt-out website for unaddressed junk mail that was to be launched three months ago has been built. However, a Freedom of Information request has learned the website is unlikely to go live any time soon.

In November 2011, Defra and the Direct Marketing Association published the details of a new 'responsibility deal'. The most striking 'action point' in the agreement, which aims to cut waste, was that two existing opt-out schemes for unaddressed mail would be merged, and that people would be able to sign up to the new service online.

The website was to be launched in April 2012 but, three months on, it still doesn't exist. When Stop Junk Mail contacted the Direct Marketing Association and Defra in May both refused to comment, and Defra took no less than 40 working days to respond to a subsequent Freedom of Information request. The reason for Defra's reluctance to talk about the opt-out website appears to be that the website has become an embarrassment for the department.

Achieving bullet points

The information Stop Junk Mail has received shows the website has been built and is ready to go live. The new opt-out scheme has been named the Door Drop Preference Service and has the same look and feel as other opt-out websites run by the Direct Marketing Association, such as the Mailing Preference Service and Telephone Preference Service. However, the Direct Marketing Association has told Defra it won't launch the website until Defra has managed to convince other industry parties to also take action to cut waste.

The 'other parties' referred to are primarily publishers of free newspapers. The responsibility deal states there is a concern that members of the Direct Marketing Association might be tempted to start distributing leaflets via free newspapers; these fall outside the scope of the deal and junk mailers therefore wouldn't need to worry about not delivering leaflets to households that have opted out. The agreement therefore mentions that Defra will commit to engage with other parts of industry that are delivering unaddressed printed material to householders with a view to improving the environmental performance of these other delivery channels.

This rather woolly statement has become the show-stopper. On 3 May, shortly after being contacted by Stop Junk Mail, Mike Lordan of the Direct Marketing Association told Defra that it would not launch the opt-out website until Defra had delivered on its promise:

The key players in our Industry […] do not agree that Defra have done what they committed to in the agreement. The major sticking point is the sentence that says: 'Therefore, Defra will commit to engage with other parts of industry that are delivering unaddressed printed material to householders with a view to improving the environmental performance of those other delivery channels' [emphasis by Mike Lordan]. We do not accept that this has been done in any meaningful way. Without this it would not achieve the first bullet point on the next page of the agreement.

The bullet point Mr Lordan referred to is one of the main objectives of the responsibility deal:

Reducing the quantity of direct marketing material necessary to achieve an acceptable return on investment through better targeting and suppression.

Interestingly, the Direct Marketing Association had asked the Newspaper Society whether or not it was interested in getting involved with the opt-out scheme for unaddressed mail as early as December 2010. An e-mail to Defra dated 10 December 2010 mentioned they had been reluctant. Defra spoke with the Professional Publishers Association only once, in January 2012. It had found that improving targeting wasn't an issue that was on their radar and that they knew [very] little about current industry practice. In other words, getting the free newspapers and inserts industry involved seems a long way off.

Very misleading

Defra's initial response to Mr Lordan's e-mail was angry. Its press officer told the Direct Marketing Association that its interpretation of what had been agreed in November 2011 was very misleading. However, because there was a concern that the press might come calling with questions about why the website had yet to go live the same press officer approved a carefully worded press statement drafted by the Direct Marketing Association. Any journalist contacting either Defra or the Direct Marketing Association to ask what has happened to the opt-out website should now be told:

The new user-friendly website that enables householders to opt out of receiving unwanted advertising mail has been developed. Agreement is now being reached with other organisations representing industries that produce and distribute other kinds of printed materials to householders to commit them to also support the scheme. Their support will make the new opt out service even more effective than was first expected. The website will go live as soon as possible.

No deadline

By agreeing to the Direct Marketing Association's statement Defra has de facto admitted it has failed to commit to the responsiblity deal. If it wants the Direct Marketing Association to launch its Door Drop Preference Service they will have to ensure that the free newspapers and inserts industry improves its 'targeting' and 'suppression'. This is unlikely to happen any time soon. In effect, the Door Drop Preference Service has been put on hold, indefinitely.


Last updated: 
27th July 2012