The Daily Mail has for some time been dedicated to the job of trashing the UK’s direct marketing industry with such articles such as:
“An avalanche of junk mail: Nearly half daily postbag is now direct marketing… and the Royal Mail wants us to get even more!”
“Millions are facing junk mail deluge: Secret Royal Mail plan to deliver marketing letters to shoppers who simply click on a product online.”
In 1996 and for years thereafter, I had fun embedding the culture of data into national and regional newspapers; first at the Telegraph; then News International; and finally the regional press.
The Internet was still an infant and there was paranoia about its impact as it started cannibalising classified advertising. Data was seen as the saviour; the white knight. Newspapers had the ability to understand readers and leverage the direct relationship on behalf of advertisers. We collected data on everything; test drives, loans and insurance (for telemarketing), and readership data to drive smart subscription programmes. Back then, data was collected in-paper and over the phone.
Roll forward 20 years and it’s a different game. The Internet now provides huge amounts of fresh data. The legislators are changing the structures. We expect both sides to be vocal and provocative. The Daily Mail is certainly the leader in the anti-junk-mail corner.
What we really want is reasoned argument reflecting the nuanced position of data in business and society. It can be collected under false pretences and used badly, or it can be collected fairly and used to deliver enhanced customer experience and improved business efficiency. The trouble is, the simple argument that data is scary and direct marketing is bad, gets more traction with those not fully engaged with the subject – and that’s most people!
Not only does this allow for a lot of data to be collected, it also provides permission for it to be used for a wide range of purposes including direct marketing. The data might come from third parties and passed onto third parties. And finally, if the business is sold any personal data might also be sold.
If the Daily Mail fixed its judgmental eyes on a company that collected and used data in this way, what might it say? Perhaps the headlines would be?
“Shock horror! Don’t click! Well respected national institution collects data through the Internet to target you with direct marketing.”
“Pray your newspaper company isn’t sold because all the information it holds on you might be sold as well.”
“Investigative journalists find your newspaper has been combining information on you from other companies with data it has collected itself to help its rich advertisers to sell to you.”
David Cole is managing director of FastMap