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DMA Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice

The Data & Marketing Association's (DMA) Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice are intended to provide individuals and organizations involved in data-driven marketing in all media with generally accepted principles of conduct. These guidelines reflect DMA's long-standing policy of high levels of ethics and the responsibility of the Association, its members, and all marketers to maintain consumer and community relationships that are based on fair and ethical principles. In addition to providing general guidance to the industry, the Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice are used by DMA's Committee on Ethical Business Practice, an industry peer review committee, as the standard to which direct marketing promotions that are the subject of complaint to DMA are compared.

These guidelines represent DMA's general philosophy that self-regulatory measures are preferable to governmental mandates. Self-regulatory actions are more readily adaptable to changing techniques and economic and social conditions. They encourage widespread use of sound business practices.

Because dishonest, misleading or offensive communications discredit all means of advertising and marketing, including direct marketing, observance of these guidelines by all concerned is expected. All persons involved in data-driven marketing should take reasonable steps to encourage other industry members to follow these guidelines as well.

DMA Guidelines provide the basis for DMA member compliance for ethical marketing practices and compliance primarily under U.S. laws. Global companies should be reviewing international rules in addition to U.S. rules. For compliance examples and specific best practices which may be over and above baseline guidelines, please refer to DMA’s guidance and best practice documents, such as its “Do the Right Thing” guidance. The DMA also asks its members to review the Fair Information Practices and Principles (FIPPs). Send questions to ethics@thedma.org.

DMA Member Principles

DMA Member Principles are the underlying framework for the Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice as detailed herein, and for Guidelines that will be drafted in the future. These Principles apply to DMA members’ relationships with current and prospective customers, donors, and members, and are the grounding for all DMA members, which includes those who market directly not only to consumers, but also to businesses, government agencies, and “SOHO” (small-office/home-office) entities. The Principles provide a general statement to the public of the expectations they can have when dealing with DMA members.

A DMA Member:

  1. Is committed to customer satisfaction, good corporate citizenship, and responsible environmental, community and financial stewardship
  2. Clearly, honestly, and accurately represents its products, services, terms and conditions
  3. Delivers its products and services as represented
  4. Communicates in a respectful and courteous manner
  5. Responds to inquiries and complaints in a constructive, timely way
  6. Maintains appropriate security policies and practices to safeguard information
  7. Provides information on its policies about the transfer of personally identifiable information for marketing purposes
  8. Honors requests not to have personally identifiable information transferred for marketing purposes
  9. Honors requests not to receive future solicitations from its organization
  10. Follows the spirit and letter of the law as well as DMA’s Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice

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Table of Contents

The Terms of the Offer

Honesty and Clarity of Offer – Article #1
Accuracy and Consistency – Article #2
Clarity of Representations – Article #3
Actual Conditions – Article #4
Disparagement – Article #5
Decency – Article #6
Photographs and Artwork – Article #7
Disclosure of Sponsor and Intent – Article #8
Accessibility – Article #9
Solicitation in the Guise of an Invoice or Governmental Notification – Article #10
Postage, Shipping, or Handling – Article #11

Advance Consent/Negative Option Marketing

Article #12

Marketing to Children

Marketing to Children – Article #13
Parental Responsibility and Choice – Article #14
Collection and Use of Information from or about Children – Article #15
Marketing Online to Children Under 13 Years of Age – Article #16

Special Offers and Claims

Use of the Word “Free” and Other Similar Representations – Article #17
Price Comparisons – Article #18
Guarantees – Article #19
Use of Test or Survey Data – Article #20
Testimonials and Endorsements – Article #21


Use of the Term “Sweepstakes” – Article #22
No Purchase Option – Article #23
Chances of Winning – Article #24
Prizes – Article #25
Premiums – Article #26
Disclosure of Rules – Article #27


Unordered Merchandise or Service – Article #28
Product Availability and Shipment – Article #29
Dry Testing – Article #30

Collection, Use, and Maintenance of Marketing Data

Consumer Choice & the Collection, Use, and Transfer of Personally Identifiable Data – Article #31
Personal Data – Article #32
Health Information Privacy and Protection – Article #33
Promotion of Marketing Lists – Article #34
Marketing List Usage – Article #35
Responsibilities of Database Compilers – Article #36
Data Security – Article #37

Digital Marketing

Online Information & OBA – Article #38
Mobile Service Commercial Message Solicitations Delivered to a Wireless Device – Article #39
Commercial Solicitations Online – Article #40
Email Authentication – Article #41
Use of Software or Other Similar Technology Installed on a Computer or Similar Device – Article #42
Social Media & Online Referral Marketing – Article #43
Email Appending to Consumer Records – Article #44

Telephone Marketing to Landline & Wireless Devices

Reasonable Hours – Article #45
Taping of Conversations – Article #46
Restricted Contacts – Article #47
Caller-ID/Automatic Number Identification Requirements – Article #48
Use of Automated Dialing Equipment/Robocalls – Article #49
Use of Prerecorded Voice & Text Messaging – Article #50
Use of Telephone Facsimile Machines – Article #51
Promotions for Response by Toll-Free and Pay-Per-Call Numbers – Article #52
Disclosure and Tactics – Article #53

Mobile Marketing

Obtaining Consent to Contact a Mobile Device – Article #54
Providing Notice about Mobile Marketing Practices – Article #55
Mobile Opt-Out Requests – Article #56
Sponsorship or Affiliate Marketing – Article #57
Location-Based Mobile Marketing – Article #58
Mobile Subscription & Premium Rate Services – Article #59


Article #60

Laws, Codes and Regulations

Article #61

DMA Resources

Click here for numerous other resources developed by the Department of Corporate & Social Responsibility.

DMA can also provide its members with information on the following Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations and rules affecting direct marketers:



Report a Complaint:
To report a complaint regarding a marketing practice that may violate these Guidelines, please email us at ethics@the-dma.org; or submit a written complaint with a copy of the marketing promotion to:
Attention: DMA Ethics & Consumer Affairs, 1615 L Street NW, Washington, DC 20036.

DMA’s Department of Corporate & Social Responsibility

In its continuing efforts to improve and advance the practices of direct marketing and the marketer’s relationship with customers, the DMA sponsors several activities through its Department of Corporate & Social Responsibility:

  • Ethical Guidelines are maintained, updated periodically, and distributed to the direct marketing community.
  • The Committee on Ethical Business Practice investigates and examines promotions and practices throughout the direct marketing community that are brought to its attention.
  • The Ethics Policy Committee revises the Guidelines as needed, and initiates programs and projects directed toward improved ethical awareness in the direct marketing arena.
  • The Committee on the Environment and Social Responsibility identifies ways for members to be good corporate citizens and recommends relevant best practices.
    DMA’s Commitment to Consumer Choice builds consumer trust in the marketing process by offering individual choices online and offline.
  • www.DMAchoice.org offers consumers assistance in managing their mail and email marketing preferences, and provides consumer education. www.Aboutads.info provides consumers choices for online behavioral advertising. The DMA CSR department oversees compliance by marketers to ensure consumer choices are being honored.

For additional information contact DMA’s Accountability Office:

225 Reinekers Lane, Suite 325
Alexandria, VA 22314
Fax: 202.955.0085
Email: ethics@thedma.org

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