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DMA Fires Back in Congressional Data-Probe Farce

8/14/12

By Ken Magill

The Direct Marketing Association yesterday sent a letter to eight members of Congress urging caution in their recently launched probe of so-called data brokers stemming from an irresponsible hack job done on Acxiom by New York Times reporter Natasha Singer.

On the heels of Singer’s story—in which she allowed privacy zealot Pam Dixon to baselessly assert that data-driven marketing could deprive certain segments of society of educational and healthcare services—eight members of Congress sent letters to nine data brokers asking for extensive information about how they gather and process marketing data.

Included in the probe were Experian, Acxiom, Epsilon and Equifax.

“The DMA is concerned that your letters appear to question legitimate commercial data practices that are essential to America’s job creation, economic growth, and global leadership, particularly with respect to the companies you have queried that collect and use data about consumers with whom they have a direct relationship,” the association’s letter said.

“Quite simply, in the digital age, data-driven marketing has become the fuel on which America’s free market engine runs.”

The letter went on to explain what should be obvious but apparently is not—namely, that data helps marketers avoid sending irrelevant pitches and that marketers aren’t interested in singling out individuals.

“No company wants to send a lawnmower discount to an apartment dweller, and no apartment dweller can use such a coupon,” the letter said. “Moreover, no company wants to send a lawnmower discount to a single homeowner, but rather to a group of likely buyers.”

Moreover, the letter pointed out, the only “harm” that can result from inaccurate marketing data is someone gets an ad that has no value to them.

The letter also pointed out that heightened data-accuracy standards and giving consumers access to marketing data would require data companies to collect more personally identifiable information in order to authenticate the identities of people requesting access and/or changes to the data.

“Given the importance of data in today’s economy, we urge Congress to proceed with caution to avoid stifling growth or impeding innovation,” the letter said.

“New restrictions on data or third-party data providers could have negative consequences not only for data providers, but for the countless entities that rely on such data sources to improve their marketing and grow their businesses. Small companies are especially reliant on third-party data because they do not have the resources to compile comparable data on their own.”

I can attest to that last statement. During the 90s cigar boom, a friend of mine obtained a trade list of new cigar manufacturers and accessories wholesalers who were being locked out of the industry’s old boy network.

I bought a list from InfoUSA of tobacconists who we presumed were having trouble getting product because of the cigar industry’s hostility to newcomers and shortages caused by the boom.

Hence, the co-op advertising Cigars-In-Stock Supermailer was launched. We sold ads to the manufacturers and accessories wholesalers, and sent the ads in co-op advertising mailers to the tobacconists.

For a short time, everybody involved made a bunch of money while helping employ a bunch of people—designers, printers, manufacturers etc.—all because two guys got two lists and introduced them to each other for a fee.

That co-op ad mailer financed my move from Buffalo, NY to the New-York-City area to start my career as a trade writer for DM News.

Here’s to hoping the DMA’s letter penetrates some of the thick skulls in Congress so they don’t regulate out of reach the ability of small businesses to reach prospects, all in the name of heading off a non-existent threat.

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