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Ethics & Compliance

DMA has, for decades, been a leader in establishing comprehensive self-regulatory guidelines for its members on all facets of direct marketing. In our experience, self-regulatory guidelines are the most effective way to address ongoing changes in technology, changes in markets, and new business practices. They provide members with generally accepted principles of conduct, prevent unnecessary regulation, and are flexible and adaptable.

Our goal is to keep all direct channels open, safe and productive for business and consumers, helping the DMA to advance and protect responsible data-driven marketing.

As part of its mission to advance and protect responsible data-driven marketing, the DMA requires its members to follow best practices and ethical business guidelines for marketing across channels to build trust in the marketing process. DMA guidelines are provided in this section for your review. Compliance tools and guidelines are developed by the DMA’s Ethics Policy Committee and its membership to ensure the latest in best practices are addressed.  DMA’s Ethics Operating Committee reviews consumer complaints regarding marketing and issues its case findings in the annual case report. See reports section below. 

DMA staff may be reached via for questions or concerns.

DMA Guidelines on Ethical Business Practice [PDF]
File a General Ethics Complaint
File an Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) Ethics Complaint Become a Compliance Officer for your Organization

DMA Committees

Committee on Ethical Business Practice (Ethics Operating Committee)

Comprised of 17 executives from DMA member organizations, the Ethics Operating Committee examines promotions and practices that may violate DMA’s self-regulatory Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice. The Committee works with both member and non-member companies to gain voluntary cooperation in adhering to the guidelines and to increase good business practices for direct marketers. Although cooperation with the Committees is voluntary, it is in everyone’s best interest to work together to ensure that high standards are maintained and consumer confidence in direct marketing is enhanced.

The DMA Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice have been applied to hundreds of direct marketing cases concerning deception, unfair business practices, personal information protection, and other ethics issues. In order to educate marketing professionals on acceptable marketing practices, a case report is regularly issued which summarizes questioned direct marketing promotions and how cases were administered. The report also is used to educate regulators and others interested in consumer protection issues about DMA’s self-regulatory guidelines and how they are implemented.

The Ethics Operating Committee is also responsible, along with the Ethics Policy Committee, for reviewing and revising The DMA Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice as necessary to keep the guidelines timely, specific, and meaningful in relation to DMA’s stated broad corporate responsibility objectives.

General Complaint Handling Procedures and Policy

The DMA is interested in hearing from you if you believe a direct marketing promotion or practice is questionable and may warrant a formal review by the Committees. The DMA receives and investigates complaints against member and nonmember organizations. These complaints are reviewed and handled by DMA’s Corporate Responsibility Department and/or the DMA Committee on Ethical Business Practice, also known as the Ethics Operating Committee.

Case Handling Procedures/Confidentiality Policy

The DMA Corporate Responsibility team and Ethics Operating Committee receive promotions for review in a number of ways: from consumers, member companies, non-members, or, sometimes, consumer protection agencies. The Committee reviews most of the matters that are received by the DMA concerning possible violations of the ethics guidelines; however, it is not possible for the Committee to review all complaints or inquiries received. The most important criteria for accepting cases to be reviewed include the following: the magnitude of the promotion or practice brought to DMA’s attention; the possible damage or economic harm to consumers; a pattern of complaints received by the DMA; and complaints that are the subject of media and/or government attention. Complaints referred to the Committee are reviewed against the Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice and if a majority of Committee members believe there is a potential violation, the company is contacted. Most companies work with the Committees to cease or change the questioned practice. Case proceedings are kept strictly confidential. However, if a member company does not cooperate and the Committees believe there are ongoing guidelines violations, the Committees can recommend that action be taken by the Board of Directors and can make case results public. Board action could include censure, suspension or expulsion from membership, and the Board may also make its actions public. If a non-member or a member company does not cooperate with the Committees and the Committees believe violations of law may also have occurred, referral of the case is generally made to federal and/or state law enforcement authorities for their review; such referral may be made public.

File A General Ethics Complaint

Cases may be submitted by writing to the DMA and including a copy of the promotion or an example of the practice that is the subject of the complaint.

Online Behavioral Advertising Compliance

General Online Ads:

Advertising seeks to target the right products to the right audience, and makes possible low-or no-cost content and services. Most online ads aren’t matched to you as an individual, but to data categories — such as demographics, interest groups, or location. The web sites you visit work with online advertising companies to provide you with advertising that is as relevant and useful as possible, and the ads are placed according to this criteria.

Interest-Based Online Ads: What is online behavioral advertising?
Online behavioral advertising — which is also sometimes called “interest-based advertising” — uses information collected across multiple web sites that you visit in order to predict your preferences and to show you ads that are most likely to be of interest to you. Many companies engaged in OBA will indicate their adherence to ethical best practices for OBA by providing an Advertising Icon  OBA to indicate their participation in the self-regulatory program and should be responsive to your concerns and choice requests. The Icon will also be labeled — Ad Choices.

The self-regulatory program requires the participants to:

  • Be transparent about its data collection and use practices associated with OBA, providing you with a clear, meaningful and prominent notice about the practices through a privacy policy and an enhanced notice policy that is specific to OBA. Did you see/review these notices?
  • Provide you with consumer control over whether data is collected and used or transferred to third parties for OBA purposes through use of a consumer choice mechanism that you can use to opt-out of such activity by the organization. Were you able to opt-out easily?
  • Obtain your consent before a material change is made to its practices regarding OBA data collection and use policies, limiting the collection of sensitive data. What is the policy stated by the company regarding use of sensitive data (such as health, financial information)?

If you have not already done so, please visit to learn more about OBA, compliance principles and the opt-out choices you can make for OBA ads.

File an Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) Ethics Complaint

OBA_IconThe DMA’s Committee on Ethical Business Practice is interested in hearing from you if you believe an online behavioral advertising practice is questionable.

To submit a potential case for Committee review, complete the form below. Be sure to provide a copy of the promotion, an example or description of the practice that is of concern. We will review the issues you have raised to determine if your concerns warrant a formal ethics investigation. In some cases, the issues can be resolved without Committee action.

We will not be able to review a matter without supporting documentation in hard copy or via email proof (see bottom of page for mailing address and contact information).

Thank you for your assistance with this important self-regulatory program for online behavioral advertising! Please Note: If, after review, the Committee believes there are potential violations of the Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice specific to Online Behavioral Advertising, the organization will be contacted and asked to revise or discontinue the promotion and/or practice. The case handling process is confidential. Names of companies under review are not released publicly unless the issues are not resolved, or DMA’s records become the subject of legal process.

DMA Report on Ethics Committee Findings

DMA handles complaints about member and non-member marketers. DMA’s Committee on Ethical Business Practice compares marketer practices to DMA’s ethics guidelines and asks companies to come into compliance.

  • Members who don’t comply with the requests of the Committee face public DMA Board censure, suspension or expulsion.
  • Non-members that do not cooperate are referred to law enforcement agencies and their cases are publicized.

Reports on Ethics Committee Findings [PDFs]

Join the DMA Corporate & Social Responsibility (CSR) Compliance Network

Who is responsible for ethics/compliance, privacy and environmental affairs in your organization? The DMA’s Corporate & Social Responsibility (CSR) department oversees a wide range of ethical and privacy guidelines, compliance initiatives and environmental best practices for the marketing community. Regulatory issues are constantly evolving. The need to communicate about self-regulation and compliance in crucial, now more than ever.

Complete the form and designate the appropriate individual(s) at your company to serve as our key contact(s).

Companies/Organizations Not In Compliance with DMA Requirements

  1. Bankers Healthcare Group, Inc. (non-member)
  2. Hearing Health Associates (non-member)
  3. Intercontinental Capital Group (non-member)
  4. National Publication Billing Services (non-member)
  5. Republican National Committee (non-member)
  6. Resource Stock Advisor (non-member)
  7. Union Workers Credit Services (non-member)
  8. SRC Lists, North Miami Beach, FL, removed from membership


Direct Marketing Association
Corporate & Social Responsibility (CSR) Department

1615 L St. NW
Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20036-5624
fax: 202.955.0085




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