DMA: Data and Marketing Association
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Ethics & Compliance

For over 60 years, the Data & Marketing Association’s ethics and self-regulatory program preserves and protects the entire marketing industry’s ability to responsibly capture, process and refine detailed data to innovate marketing practices and technologies that benefit their customers and grow our economy.

DMA has crafted and enforced strong industry self-regulation in partnership with our members because we believe that self-regulation is always the better choice over government regulation of marketing. It is a key pillar of what we do at DMA each day as mapped in this annual report.

The challenge is daunting as innovation is driving new techniques and changes, but progress is being made in two ways:

  1. We work on a daily basis with consumers to help them understand legitimate marketing and fundraising efforts and to report fraudulent activity.
  2. We ensure companies and organizations are aware of and follow industry ethics and guidelines so that consumers can trust the process and to ensure accountability is occurring.

We take consumer concerns seriously.

Download the DMA Annual Ethics Compliance Report

8,549 Consumer Complaints - 491 Digital Ad Complaints

From January to December 2016, DMA has processed thousands of inquiries and worked on specific instances of bad marketing practices.

Marketing Compliance Snapshot 2016

Compliance Key Findings

Highlights of Consumer Complaints and Inquiries Regarding Marketing Practices

Consumer Ethic Inquiry Trends

Uptick in consumers reaching out to DMA for assistance in removing deceased family members from marketing lists.

The practice of “passing the buck” means that the company referred consumers complaining about its service or promotional mailing to DMA instead of handling the complaints internally, this is not an acceptable practice. For example, a large teleservices company included DMA’s complaint hotline on its own marketing mailing and online advertisement instead of providing an internal process for complaints from consumers. DMA received dozens of complaints as a result.

When companies refer consumers to DMA, consumers often believe DMA is the list source and that DMA can remove them from a company’s files. This is not the case. DMA cannot resolve a data issue for a company regarding its own database systems. Companies should ensure their organization has a marketing preference process in place.

Consumer Preference Inquiries

DMA provides multiple preference lists to assist companies in honoring and consumers in managing marketing preferences across the various marketing channels.

Even though there’s been a tremendous growth and innovation in the digital marketplace, staff still receives the most inquiries from consumers who are seeking more control over the types and volume of promotional mail and catalogs they receive.

The DMA Accountability team has also seen an uptick in consumers seeking assistance in removing deceased family members from marketing lists. This is the most sensitive name removal request – companies should ensure that they have in-place an internal suppression process and that the front-line customer service representatives are properly trained on protocol.

Staff recommends that you provide in your privacy policy a clear point of company contact for consumers who wish to reach you regarding their marketing preferences.

Digital Content Complaints

The main category of complaints is still educating consumers on the difference between general ads and interest-based/targeted ads and how to manage the latter. This includes educating consumers on how to manage their online ad choices to suit their needs.

Staff assisted hundreds of consumers to explain the different online ad choice tools available to help them control their online experiences:
Cookie opt-out tool – for computers/laptops
App opt-out tool – for mobile devices

DMA received an uptick in complaints from consumers who objected to targeting of political ads due to the 2016 election campaigns.

Learn more about interest-based ads.

Significant jump in complaints/inquiries received through interest based advertising (IBA) complaint process based on digital platform experience:

Consumers using multiple devices: from 2% to 5% (Good news–consumers did not indicate former concern that they were being “followed” on multiple devices. The complaints center on just too many ads on multiple devices, or questions on how to better manage their online ad experience based on their multiple devices. Less is more for the consumer with multiple devices.)

Consumers using mobile devices (doubled in percentage points from 11% to 22%) – showing a growing trend in usage of mobile devices – smartphones and tablets.

Drop in inquiries in consumers just using computers and laptops: 87% – 73%

Looking Towards the Future

Emerging Trends and DMA Solutions

Cross-device Data
The IBA complaint process has shown the number of consumers using multiple devices has skyrocketed from 2% to 24% leading to greater innovation and opportunities for companies.

DMA addressed this with industry and consumer education:

  • Co-presented webinar with DAA to educate industry on cross-device compliance / enforcement requirements
  • Developing industry compliance fact sheet on cross-device – privacy notice and choice requirements and DMA’s enforcement beginning in Feb. 2017
  • Developing consumer fact sheet on how consumers can manage IBA opt-outs for multiple devices
  • Creating an IBA complaint form for multiple devices.

Mobile Engagement Shift
As we’ve seen over the past year through our IBA complaint process – the number of consumers using mobile devices has doubled from 11% to 22%.

DMA will continue in its efforts to educate consumers on the different industry opt-out tools – these are available depending on device used – such as DAA’s app opt-out for mobile devices.

We will continue to handle and address inquiries and complaints through our ethics complaint process – staff and Ethics Operating Committee complaint referral or resolution.

Ad Fraud / Ad Blockers
Increase in fraudulent online ad offers. Answer is not ad blockers – this will have a greater impact on legitimate and responsible ad service providers and brands. Key is compliance – adherence to standard industry principles of notice, choice and enforcement. Online ads are key component to a thriving digital ecosystem at no added cost to a consumer.

DMA staff and our Ethics Operating Committee will address and resolve consumer inquiries and will refer to appropriate authorities (FTC, FCC, State Attorney Generals) when appropriate – company is not responsive or found to be out of compliance.

Public Report of Non-Compliance

Companies referred to federal/state authorities based on findings

These companies were found not in compliance in 2016 with DMA’s ethical guidelines. For details, download the full compliance report. For questions, please contact ethics@thedma.org.

To view past non-compliant companies, click here.

View Previous DMA Ethics Compliance Reports

Ethics Policy Committee

Ethical Business Practices Committee

DMA Board Liaisons

2016 Annual Ethics and Compliance Report
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