Stupid Media Watch: What the DMA is Up Against
By Ken Magill
An exchange between Direct Marketing Association chief executive Linda Woolley and New York Times reporter Stuart Elliott during a press conference yesterday perfectly illustrated the challenges the DMA faces with its newly launched consumer-education initiative on data-driven marketing.
Dubbed the Data-Driven Marketing Institute, the initiative’s aim is to educate consumers, lawmakers and regulators about the benefits and harmlessness of online behaviorally targeted advertising.
“Its sole purpose is to set the record straight about the countless ways that data-driven marketing benefits consumers and is an engine of economic growth,” said Woolley in her keynote speech at the fall conference in Las Vegas yesterday. “DMA cannot let the mischaracterizations of what we do stand.”
After her keynote, it was time for Woolley to face the press.
Enter Elliott. Ordinarily, I would edit the quote, but it really should be digested in its entirety.
“One of the things that in talking to consumers that I find is that … as much as they like targeted advertising, as much as they like special offers and coupons they really do have concerns about privacy that for some reason, whatever it is, online marketing with geo-targeting and all the other aspects just creeps some of them out,” Elliott said.
“And they say they know some of the concerns they have aren’t rational and the hackles seem to get raised a lot more through data-driven marketing than it did back in the days when they would get a piece of direct mail with a dot-matrix printer saying: ‘Yes Mr. Elliott, you too can win $10,000 in our sweepstakes,’” he added.
“It always seems to me that these sorts of initiatives from folks like yourself don’t acknowledge that. They seem to be very Pollyannaish and they don’t address seriously the deep concerns consumers have. It’s like: ‘Oh, those really aren’t concerns. People love coupons and ‘goodbye.’’”
To her credit, Woolley rejected Elliott’s premise:
“To be honest I don’t really understand how you can say that the DMA is not acknowledging privacy concerns or isn’t hearing what consumers want,” she said.
To which Elliott retorted: “No, I didn’t say that! I’m saying that it just seems in a lot of cases these things seem to gloss over that to a degree that consumers just ignore the messages because they don’t feel it’s a real genuine dialog on some of the concerns that they have.”
Never mind the fact that if it weren’t for borderline criminally negligent reporting by some of Elliott’s peers at the Times and other news organizations, consumer fears over data-driven marketing wouldn’t exist.
But let’s get this straight: If a commercial activity has been demonized by a bunch of swirly eyed privacy zealots and a bunch of gullible fear mongers in the consumer press, but in fact that commercial activity is harmless and highly beneficial to society, pointing it out to consumers is not addressing their fears?
Data-driven marketing is harmless and benefits us all. What other message should the DMA be pushing? Would town hall meetings help?
Oh, and another thing: Those friendly dot-matrix mailers Elliott seems to recall so fondly were the cutting-edge data-driven marketing of their day. And consumer reporters were just as alarmist about data-driven marketing then as now.
Elliot’s assertion was akin to a reporter telling a politician they aren’t doing enough to assuage citizens’ fears over a nonexistent, imminent alien invasion after months of newspaper reports saying the nonexistent alien invasion was imminent.
Woolley handled Elliott well enough.
“I agree with you that consumers have concerns about privacy, but I also believe that if consumers were really concerned about this … you would see consumers voting with their feet and they would stop doing the things they’re doing. They would stop using their mobile devices in certain ways. They would stop signing up for loyalty programs. They would stop using geotargeting. They would stop downloading apps. Consumers have the power to stop something when they don’t like it and we have not seen any of that.”
She added: “When the privacy zealots talk to you about harm, the terrible, bad parade of horribles that can happen from data-driven marketing, I defy them. I challenge them and you right here, right now to tell me about what harms have come from marketing. You get an ad for Macy’s but you really like shopping at Nordstrom’s? So ignore it.
“The examples that [Federal Trade Commission chairman] Jon Leibowitz talks about don’t make any sense and they aren’t happening.”
What Woolley was apparently referring to is a ridiculous scenario painted by Leibowitz that if he bought a deep-fryer online, the deep-fryer merchant could sell that information to a health insurer who would then raise his rates.
Apparently, an inkling as to how trade works in the 21st century is not a prerequisite to chair the Federal Trade Commission.
This is not necessarily to pick on Elliott and Leibowitz. It is simply to point out what the DMA and every company it represents is up against in the battle to save data-driven marketing: a bunch of anti-marketing, ginned-up horse pucky masquerading as consumer protection.
And unfortunately, this horse pucky is ingrained in some very influential and powerful people’s heads.